Meeting UN Health Goals Could Save Millions of Lives

Reductions in smoking and five other risk factors could reduce millions of premature deaths

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some of the biggest killers worldwide are diseases that can largely be prevented: heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancers and diabetes. But it will require some effort.

These are the four diseases that the United National General Assembly agreed in 2011 to tackle over the next decade.

A recent study estimated how many lives could be saved if countries across the world met the United Nations (UN) goals in reducing six major risk factors for these diseases.

Those risk factors include smoking, alcohol use, excessive salt intake, obesity, increased blood pressure and increased blood sugar.

Achieving the UN reductions for these risk factors could save millions of lives, the study found.

"Pick a healthy goal to meet over the next year."

This study was led by Vasilis Kontis, PhD, of the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health at the School of Public Health in the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom.

The researchers developed a mathematical model to calculate how many lives could be saved if those six risk factors could be reduced across the world.

The UN targets for those risk factors include reducing smoking by 30 percent, alcohol consumption by 10 percent, and salt intake by 30 percent.

In 2010 alone, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory disease killed more than 28 million people.

If no changes in current trends occur with smoking rates, alcohol use, salt intake and rates of high blood pressure, high glucose levels and obesity, then death rates would still decrease, but only by 11 percent in men and 10 percent in women.

Meanwhile, without changes in those risk factors, an estimated 39 million people would die from those four diseases in 2025.

In contrast, meeting the UN goals would drop death rates by 22 percent for men and 19 percent for women, compared to the rates of death in 2010.

Basically, that kind of reduction means saving the lives of 37 million people between 2010 and 2025, and 16 million of these people would be younger than 70 years old.

Achieving some of those goals would have a greater effect than others, such as the increased effect of reducing smoking and high blood pressure rates.

In fact, if smoking rates were slashed in half while the other goals were met, the world would see a 25 percent drop in premature death among men and a 20 percent drop in premature death among women.

Those kinds of decreases would translate to about 43 million fewer deaths between 2010 and 2025.

These numbers apply to reductions in deaths across the world, and much of the impact would be seen in lower income and middle income countries.

However, a reduction in deaths in these countries could significantly affect the world economy and overall world public health.

This study was published May 3 in The Lancet. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The report was supported by the World Health Organization, and no additional information regarding funding was provided.

Review Date: 
May 10, 2014
Last Updated:
May 12, 2014