London: Health data released on Wednesday provided the clearest evidence to date of the spread of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease from developed nations to poorer regions such as Africa, as lifestyles and diets there change.
The United Nations data showed one in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure—the cause of around half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease—and the condition affects almost half the adult population in some African nations.
In its annual report on global health, the World Health Organization (WHO) also said one in 10 adults worldwide has diabetes. While the average global prevalence is around 10%, the report said, up to a third of the population in some Pacific Island countries have the condition.
Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are often thought of as illnesses which primarily affect people in wealthy nations, where high fat diets, alcohol consumption and smoking are major health risks.
But the WHO says almost 80% of deaths from such diseases now occur in low- and middle-income countries.
In Africa, rising smoking rates, a shift towards Western- style diets and less exercise mean chronic or so-called non-communicable diseases are rising rapidly and are expected to surpass other diseases as the most common killers by 2020.
This year’s WHO report was the first to include data from all 194 member countries on the percentage of men and women with high blood pressure and with raised blood sugar levels, a symptom of diabetes.
In wealthy countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with low-cost drugs have significantly reduced average blood pressure readings across populations—and this has contributed to a reduction in deaths from heart disease, the WHO said.
But in Africa, more than 40% —and in some places up to 50%—of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure.
Obesity is another major issue, the WHO said, with data showing rates of obesity doubling in every region of the world between 1980 and 2008.
“Today, half a billion people—or 12% of the world’s population—are considered obese,” said Ties Boerma, the WHO’s director of health Statistics and information systems.
The highest obesity levels are in the Americas, where 26% of adults are obese.