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World of people just dying to indulge

Lifestyle-related diseases stemming from tobacco, alcohol and obesity, have taken over infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria to become the greatest killer of people worldwide.

Director-General of the World Health Organisation Margaret Chan yesterday released a report that showed non-communicable illnesses including cancer, diabetes and heart disease had contributed to 36.1 million deaths in 2008 – nearly two thirds of the 57 million deaths around the globe that year.

Speaking at a meeting in Moscow, Dr Chan said the rise of these diseases was an enormous challenge for affluent countries, but more so for low and middle-income countries that experienced 80 per cent of the 36.1 million deaths in 2008.

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”For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies,” she said.

”Chronic non-communicable diseases deliver a two-punch blow to development. They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and they push millions of people below the poverty line, each and every year.”

However, Dr Chan stressed that the diseases were largely preventable and could be treated and controlled with the right medical interventions. She said millions of lives could be spared if governments adopted stronger anti-tobacco controls while promoting healthier diets, physical activity and less harmful consumption of alcohol.

Without action, Dr Chan said the epidemic was projected to kill 52 million people annually by 2030.

In Australia, the report said about 63,400 men and 63,200 women died in 2008 because of non-communicable diseases. About 40 per cent of the population did not exercise enough with 64 per cent deemed overweight or obese.

It also noted that 17 per cent of Australians smoked daily, 36 per cent had high blood pressure and 9 per cent had high blood glucose levels. And in 2008, every Australian consumed about 10 litres of alcohol.

Professor Rob Moodie from the Nossal Institute for Global Health at Melbourne University said Australia had a high burden of non-communicable diseases and needed to ramp up its efforts to reduce the incidence.

He said although the Australian government had done well on anti-tobacco policies, it needed to limit the widespread availability of alcohol and increase pressure on the food industry to reduce the salt content of foods and advertising of unhealthy products to children.

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