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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
'Cut chronic disease deaths' call
Cigarette
Smoking is a leading cause of chronic disease
Millions of lives could be saved by acting to reduce the impact of chronic diseases, experts say.

The World Health Organization says 36m deaths from heart disease, stroke, cancer and adult-onset diabetes could be prevented over the next 10 years.

Tobacco, poor diet and insufficient exercise are largely to blame for deaths from these preventable diseases, the WHO says.

It warns that low and middle income countries are hardest hit.

The cost of inaction is clear and unacceptable
Dr Jong-wook Lee, Director General of the World Health Organization

The WHO is calling for a series of measures to be introduced in order to reach the target of cutting deaths by an extra 2% per year by 2015.

It says governments, private industries and ordinary people in communities all need to work to achieve the target.

Its report looks at the impact of chronic diseases on Brazil, Canada, China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the UK and the United Republic of Tanzania.

This says the main causes for increases in chronic diseases are people eating more foods which are high in fats and sugars, work and living situations becoming less active - and increased marketing of tobacco products to developing countries.

Chewing tobacco, as well as smoking it, is linked to disease.

Simple measures could be used to tackle these factors, such as reducing salt in processed foods, improving school meals and taxing tobacco products, the report says.

Costly

The WHO says cutting deaths from chronic disease would also help countries' economies by cutting the cost of treatment and lost productivity caused by premature deaths.

MALRI'S STORY
Malri Twalib, who is five, lives in a poor rural area of the Kilimanjaro district of the United Republic of Tanzania
A community outreach scheme noticed him last year, and said he had a clear case of childhood obesity
A follow-up call a year later found he still eats too much porridge and animal fats, and too few fruits and vegetables
And he cannot play outside very much because the courtyard outside his house is too small, and the neighbourhood is littered with rusty construction debris.
His mother Fadhila told the WHO: 'It is too hazardous - he could get hurt'
Fadhila, who is herself obese, says she sees no risks attached to her son's obesity, and thinks his weight will one day go down naturally
She adds: 'Rounded forms run in the family and there's no history of chronic diseases, so why make a big fuss?'

It estimates that, without action, chronic diseases could cost countries billions of dollars over the next decade.

The accumulated cost to China could be up to US$558 billion, to India US$236 billion, and to the Russian Federation US$303 billion, according to the WHO.

The report estimates that over the next 10 years, almost five million people in the UK will die from a chronic diseases, with a cost to the economy of US$33 billion dollars (18.8 billion).

Dr Jong-wook Lee, WHO Director General, said: "This is a very serious problem, both for public health and for the societies and economies affected, and the toll is projected to increase.

"The cost of inaction is clear and unacceptable.

"It is vital that countries review and implement the health actions we know will reduce premature death from chronic diseases."

'Wave of disease'

Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said the report was "a timely reminder" that tobacco use was still the single, biggest preventable cause of premature death.

Simon O'Neill, from Diabetes UK, said: "We know that Type 2 diabetes is linked to being overweight, so people must be educated to eat a healthy diet and take up regular physical activity or the numbers will continue to rise at an alarming rate."

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "With an epidemic of obesity and associated type 2 diabetes round the corner, there is a greater need to focus on the management of chronic conditions including heart and circulatory disease."

The Lancet medical journal publishes some of the WHO's research in an online special looking at the effects of chronic diseases.

In an editorial, Lancet editor Richard Horton says the reduction of chronic disease called for by the WHO should be made a Millennium Development Goal.

He added:" Without concerted and co-ordinated political action, the gains achieved in reducing the burden of infectious disease will be washed away as a new wave of preventable illness engulfs those least able to protect themselves."


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