- Heart attacks, stroke and other circulatory diseases together kill more than 15 million people a year, or 30% of the annual total of deaths from all causes.
- Many of these deaths are both premature - occurring in people under 65 years - and preventable.
- Circulatory diseases are emerging rapidly as a major public health concern in most developing countries, where they now account for about 25% of all deaths, compared to about half of all deaths in developed countries.
- Once, these diseases were regarded as affecting exclusively industrialized nations, but this is no longer true. As developing countries modernize, they are more able to control communicable diseases, and the life expectancy of their populations increases. Unfortunately, so do their risks of circulatory conditions. This is partly because of their adoption of lifestyles similar to those in industrialized countries, and the accompanying risk factors - high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, unhealthy diet, physical in-activity and obesity.
- In the industrialized countries themselves, meanwhile, deaths rates from coronary heart disease have declined dramatically in the last 30 years. This is largely because of better medical treatment and preventive measures including health education on smoking and diet.
- High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and affects about 20% of adults in most countries. Blood pressure increases progressively with age.
- Cigarette smoking is the most readily preventable risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.
- High blood cholesterol levels are also a major risk factor. The causes can be genetic, but are commonly related to a diet rich in animal fats.
- Lack of physical activity is the most prevalent, modifiable risk factor for heart disease in many industrialized countries. Similar levels of inactivity are becoming more common in newly-industrialized countries.
- Obesity is a risk factor in itself for heart disease, and is related to inappropriate nutrition and inactivity.