UN health agency recommends measures to extend life expectancy
Worldwide, life expectancy can be increased by 5 to10 years if governments and individuals make combined efforts against the prevailing major health risks, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) says in its latest annual report, issued today.
The World Health Report 2002 -- Preventing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life identifies major principal global threats of disease, disability and death, quantifying their actual impact from region to region and providing examples of cost-effective ways to reduce those risks, applicable even in poor countries.
“This report provides a road map for how societies can tackle a wide range of preventable conditions that are killing millions of people prematurely and robbing tens of millions of healthy life,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland.
From more than 25 major preventable risks selected for in-depth study, the report finds that the top 10 globally are: childhood and maternal underweight, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco, alcohol, unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene, high cholesterol, indoor smoke from solid fuels, iron deficiency and overweight/obesity. Together, they account for about 40 per cent of the 56 million deaths that occur worldwide annually.
An estimated 170 million children in poor countries are underweight, mainly from lack of food, while more than 1 billion adults worldwide – in middle income and high income countries alike – are overweight or obese. The report says about 500,000 people in North America and Western Europe die from overweight/obesity-related diseases every year.
“The cost of inaction is serious,” WHO warns, predicting that unless action is taken, by the year 2020 there will be 9 million deaths caused by tobacco, while 5 million people will die due to obesity.
If all of these preventable risks could be addressed as WHO recommends, healthy life spans could increase as much as 16 plus years in parts of Africa, where life expectancy is low, just 37 years in Malawi for example. Even in the richer countries, such as those in Europe as well as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, healthy life spans could increase by about five years.