Sex, alcohol, fat among world's big killers: WHO

Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:13pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Tackling just five health factors could prevent millions of premature deaths and increase global life expectancy by almost 5 years, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

Poor childhood nutrition, unsafe sex, alcohol, bad sanitation and hygiene, and high blood pressure are to blame for around a quarter of the 60 million premature deaths around the world each year, the WHO said in a report.

But while not having enough nutritious food is a big health risk for those in poorer countries, obesity and being overweight pose yet bigger risks in richer nations -- leading to a situation in which obesity and being overweight causes more deaths worldwide than being underweight.

"The world faces some large, widespread and certain risks to health," the WHO said in its Global Health Risks report. It examined 24 major health risks, and said recognizing and assessing them would help policy makers draw up strategies to improve health in the broadest and most cost-effective ways.

"As health improves, gains can multiply," it said. "Reducing the burden of disease in the poor may raise income levels, which in turn will further help to reduce health inequalities."

The report warned that although some major health risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and being overweight, were usually associated with high-income countries, more than three-quarters of the total global burden of diseases they cause now occurs in poor and developing countries.

"Health risks are in transition: populations are aging owing to successes against infectious diseases; at the same time, patterns of physical activity and food, alcohol and tobacco consumption are changing," it said.

"Understanding the role of these risk factors is important for developing clear and effective strategies for improving global health."   Continued...

<p>Visitors at an wine expo in a file photo. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>