'Lifestyle' diseases spur UN to act

Published: Monday 19 September 2011

Health is rarely the topic of discussion at the UN general assembly. But starting September 19, the UN began a high-level meeting to debate a strategy to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs). This is the second time that the world body is calling a meeting on health. More than a decade ago, the adverse economic impact of HIV/AIDS galvanised it to find ways to fund, prevent and treat the killer disease. The current meeting will focus on four non-communicable diseases—cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. These are now health problems of similar proportions.

Why the meeting:

Every year, over 9 million people die of NCDs, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and chronic lung disease before they reach age 60. Ninety per cent of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

For India and other low and middle income countries, this calls for immediate action

NCDs impact GDP

* US $9 billion: estimated losses in India's national income in 2005 from heart disease, stroke and diabetes. $237 billion: likely losses between 2005 and 2015 because of these diseases, which is 1.5 per cent of India's GDP

* 0.02 per cent to 6.77 per cent of GDP: cost to developing countries, according to a study by Institute of Medicine in the United States in 2010. This is greater than the losses caused by malaria in the 1960s or AIDS in the 1990s

* Each 10 per cent rise in NCDs is associated with lowering of annual economic growth by 0.5 per cent, suggests an analysis

Poor countries more at risk

* The prevalence of raised body mass index, increasing with rising income level of countries, rose across all income groups

* In lower-middle- and low-income countries the increase in prevalence of overweight and obesity over three decades was greater than in upper-middle and high-income countries, with rates of obesity doubling over the three decades between 1980 and 2008

* Global mean total cholesterol levels changed very little in the three decades between 1980 and 2008, although, the prevalence of raised total cholesterol declined in all country income groups except lower-middle-income

Risk factor divide

With reference to the risk factors that lead to the diseases, there is a major difference between developed and developing countries:

  • Tobacco use was higher in middle-income countries than in low- or high-income countries. Men in lower middle-income countries had the highest smoking prevalence at 39 per cent
  • Physical activity was the lowest in high income countries with 41 per cent men and 48 per cent women being insufficiently physically active in high-income countries
  • The prevalence of raised blood pressure was higher in low and middle-income countries

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