Premature Deaths Could Be Reduced By Aggressively Targeting The 'Big Four' Chronic Diseases
May 4, 2014

Achieving UN Health Targets Could Drastically Reduce Chronic Disease Deaths

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Nearly 40 million deaths could be prevented by 2025 simply by achieving globally-agreed targets for a half-dozen essential health risks, including smoking and drinking, according to research published Saturday in the medical journal The Lancet.

In the paper, the study authors explained that by reaching goals in six risk factors (tobacco and alcohol use, salt intake, obesity, and raised blood pressure and glucose) could significantly reduce deaths resulting from the so-called “big four” chronic diseases: cancers, diabetes, lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

According to lead author Dr. Vasilis Kontis of the Imperial College London School of Public Health and colleagues, reaching those goals would prevent more than 37 million deaths from those conditions within the next 11 years, with reductions in smoking and blood pressure resulting in the largest overall health benefits.

“In 2011, the UN General Assembly agreed to reduce deaths from the big-four chronic diseases,” Dr. Kontis school explained in a statement. “The World Health Organization (WHO) created targets for both premature deaths from these chronic diseases and their key risk factors… [and then] the researchers analyzed the effects of achieving these targets for risk factor on deaths from the four major chronic diseases.”

The researchers discovered that these “big four” chronic diseases killed more than 28 million people in 2010, and without any new action, that number is expected to rise to 39 million people in 2025. However, if the six risk-factor targets are achieved, the risk of dying prematurely from those conditions in 2025 will decrease by 22 percent in males and 19 percent for females in comparison to 2010 levels.

Thus, reaching those targets would prevent over 37 million deaths between 2010 and 2025 – a figure which would include 16 million deaths among those people under the age of 70 and whose deaths are considered premature. Furthermore, the bulk of those benefits would be seen in low to middle income countries.

“It is possible to achieve most of the desired reduction in deaths from chronic diseases by tackling a small number of preventable risk factors,” said senior author Professor Majid Ezzati, also of Imperial College London. “Much larger impacts will be seen in low-to-middle-income countries where 31 million deaths will be averted.”

“High income countries are already working towards many of these targets with a range of policy measures such as tobacco and alcohol taxes, public smoking bans, and guidelines to reduce the amount of salt in food, although we still need to find ways to curb obesity and diabetes,” he added. “Our study shows the urgent need for a greater policy push and injection of resources into low-to-middle-income countries to replicate the success stories.”

Currently, the global targets include a 30 percent reduction in smoking levels, a 10 percent reduction in alcohol consumption and a 30 percent reduction in the amount of sodium in food. Some of the targets were found to have more of an effect than others, with blood pressure and smoking reduction proving to be the most effective.

The results could be even better, however, if the targets were slightly more ambitious. For example, Dr. Kontis' team found that cutting smoking levels in half instead of just reducing them by 30 percent decreased the risk of premature death by nearly 25 percent in men and by 20 percent in women. In all, that would mean that over 42 million premature deaths would be prevented between 2010 and 2025, the study authors claim.