World health report

Conquering suffering, enriching humanity

Hazards of living

The development of chronic diseases is seldom, if ever, due to one single cause. In addition to inherited vulnerability, many lifestyle factors are known to increase the risks - factors such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, inappropriate diet, and inadequate physical activity.

These factors are at least to some extent within the control of the well-informed individual. But there are others over which the individual alone has little control, such as the effects of poverty; poor reproductive and maternal health; genetic predisposition; occupational hazards; and unhealthy living and stressful working conditions.

Many people are suffering and dying prematurely from chronic diseases. This trend is strongly linked to lifestyles which have undergone radical changes in recent years - from physical, outdoor labour to sedentary work, from rural life to urban existence, from traditional diet to unhealthy foods, from negligible consumption of alcohol and/or tobacco to daily or heavy consumption of one or both.

Later in life, hundreds of millions of adults suffer from mental illnesses ranging from chronic depression to dementia, and huge numbers are disabled for many years by musculoskeletal disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.