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The World Health Organization releases the World Health Statistics 2012 report, which highlights the rise of diabetes and obesity
September 6, 2012

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its World Health Statistics 2012 report, which includes data from 194 countries and highlights the rapidly increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes and obesity.

Part 2 of the report discusses the significant rise in NCDs, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, noting that this increase represents a “major health challenge of the 21st century.” Indeed, the total number of annual NCD deaths is projected to increase from 36 million in 2008 to 55 million by 2030, while deaths from infectious diseases are expected to decline during this time frame. (And, of course – what is unsaid is that the number of people with diabetes who aren’t dying is actually equally troubling.) The 2012 report is the first major report that we know of to include information on the percentage of adults with elevated blood glucose levels, and shows that globally, roughly 9% of females and 10% of males have elevated levels of fasting plasma glucose.

An accompanying press release from the WHO states that the global average prevalence of diabetes is roughly 10% and that nearly one third of the populations in several Pacific Island countries has diabetes Although diabetes is only directly responsible for 3.5% of NCD mortalities (fourth behind CV disease, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases), the 2012 report noted that elevated blood glucose also causes an estimated 22% of coronary heart disease deaths and an estimated 16% of stroke deaths. Moreover, the report lists raised blood glucose, physical inactivity, and being overweight or obese as leading behavioral and physiological mortality risk factors that account for 6%, 6%, and 5% of global deaths, respectively – and likely a far higher percent of poor health though this is challenging to pinpoint exactly. Notably, the report also lists the obesity epidemic as the third “key trend” (behind child death and blood pressure), which in our view further demonstrates the increasing concern over the economic, developmental, and health impacts of obesity.

According to the report, roughly 12% of the world’s population is obese – the Americas have the highest percentages of people who are overweight or obese (62% overweight and 26% obese) while the South-East Asia region has the lowest percentages (14% overweight and 3% obese). Women are more likely to be obese then men across the world – alarmingly, over 50% of women in the European region, Eastern Mediterranean region, and region of the Americas are overweight. Worldwide, 2.8 million people die annually as a result of being overweight or obese, largely due to the adverse effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as the increased risk for diabetes.

Somewhat encouragingly, as the result of a high-level United Nations meeting on NCDs, the WHO is developing a global monitoring system and a set of targets for the prevention and control of NCDs.
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