UN finds high blood pressure, high glucose - signs that diseases of affluence are spreading

GENEVA - A quarter of those 25 or older now have high blood pressure worldwide, and almost one in 10 has worrying levels of glucose in their blood.

The World Health Organization's tally of the latest global health statistics for the first time includes a look at blood pressure and glucose levels, two of the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Among the findings released Wednesday were that 29.2 per cent of men and 24.8 per cent of women have high blood pressure, while 9.8 per cent of men and 9.2 per cent of women have raised fasting blood glucose levels.

Officials in charge of compiling the yearly snapshot of statistics from 194 nations for the U.N. health agency say rich nations have exported some of their disease risk factors to the developing world.

Dr. Ties Boerma, director of WHO's health statistics, said tobacco use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity "are no longer diseases of just affluent countries."

But the spread of smoking and a taste for fast, processed and salty foods is also hitting populations that are living longer.

"Globalization, urbanization and aging populations are spreading around the world, so four out of five deaths due to the so-called diseases of affluence are in low and middle-income countries," Boerma said. "It's also being a victim of your own success."

Colin Mathers, who co-ordinates WHO statistics on mortality and disease, says obesity is "rising everywhere" even as many children lack enough to eat. WHO says in its latest report that child malnutrition remains the underlying cause of an estimated 35 per cent of all deaths among children under 5 years old.

But there's good news too, say Boerma and Mathers.

Boerma cited "major progress" in fighting infectious diseases and malnutrition, as the proportion of children in developing countries who were underweight has declined to 18 per cent in 2010 from 29 per cent in 1990.

The number of women who died during childbirth declined 47 per cent over the same period to 287,000 deaths in 2010, down from 543,000 in 1990. That's a drop of 3.1 per cent a year on average.

The mortality rate among also children declined 35 per cent between 1990 and 2010, WHO says. Still, almost 20 per cent of deaths in children under the age of five — mostly from pneumonia and diarrhea — are preventable by vaccines.

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