WHO World Health Statistics: Growing Burden of Non-communicable Diseases

May 17, 2012, 3:07 PM, Posted by


World Health Statistics 2012, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows progress in some health problems that have vexed the developing world, such as maternal deaths in childbirth, but also highlights the growing problem of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. This is the first year that the report has tracked cases of diabetes and high blood pressure.

According to the WHO:

  • One in three adults worldwide has high blood pressure
  • One in 10 adults has diabetes
  • Half a billion people worldwide (12% of the world population) are obese

“This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses,” says Margaret Chan, MD, Director-General of WHO. Non-communicable diseases currently cause almost two thirds of all deaths worldwide. The World Health Assembly, to be held in Geneva next week, will review progress made since a UN summit on the issue last fall. WHO committees are currently working on a global monitoring framework and a set of voluntary targets for prevention and control of the diseases.

Health improvements reported this year include:

  • Decrease in Maternal Mortality: In 20 years, the number of maternal deaths has decreased from more than 540,000 deaths in 1990 to less than 290,000 in 2010—a decline of 47 percent. One third of maternal deaths occur in just two countries—India with 20 percent of the global total and Nigeria with 14 percent.
  • Decrease in Child Deaths: Public health advancements have helped save children’s lives in the past decade, with a reduction in child deaths from almost 10 million for children age five and younger in 2000 to 7.6 million annual deaths in 2010. Successes include declines in deaths from diarrheal disease and measles.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.