The number of people with high blood pressure and diabetes is drastically increasing in both developed and developing countries, according to a United Nations report released on Wednesday.
"This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low- and middle-income countries," said the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan. "In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure."
WHO's World Health Statistics 2012 report, which includes data from 194 countries, states that one in three adults worldwide has raised blood pressure and one in 10 suffers from diabetes.
In high-income countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with low-cost medication have reduced mean blood pressure across populations, leading in turn to a reduction in deaths from heart disease. In Africa, however, more than 40 per cent of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure - most of them remain undiagnosed, even though many of these cases could be treated with low-cost medications, which would significantly reduce the risk of death.
In the case of diabetes, the global average prevalence is around 10 per cent, with up to one third of populations in some Pacific Island countries having this condition. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to cardiovascular disease, blindness and kidney failure.
An increase in obesity is also highlighted in the report as being a major health risk.
"In every region of the world, obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008," said the Director of the Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems at WHO, Ties Boerma. "Today, half a billion people - 12 per cent of the world's population - are considered obese."
The highest obesity levels are in the Americas, with 26 per cent of adults suffering from obesity, and the lowest in the South-East Asian region, where only three per cent of the population is obese. In all parts of the world, women are more likely to be obese than men, making them more vulnerable to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
According to WHO, non-communicable diseases currently cause almost two thirds of all deaths worldwide.
Concern about the rise in the numbers of deaths from heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer prompted the UN to hold a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York in September last year. Next week, the World Health Assembly - the decision-making body of WHO - will be held in Geneva. It is expected to review progress made since that meeting and agree on next steps.