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Smoking and Drinking Now Kill More Than Hunger

The world's three leading health risks are now high blood pressure, cigarettes and alcohol—all of which are avoidable.

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Booze and cigarettes kill 11 million a year.
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By Bryan Le

12/13/12

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Smoking and alcohol have overtaken child hunger as the second and third greatest global health risks respectively, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, published in The Lancet today. High blood pressure is now rated as the world's leading cause of death, taking an estimated 9 million lives in 2010. "Overall we're seeing a growing burden of risk factors that lead to chronic diseases in adults, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and a decreasing burden for risks associated with infectious diseases in children," says Professor Majid Ezzati, one of the study's senior authors. She points out that these trends vary greatly by region. Risks associated with poverty have diminished in places like Asia and Latin America, for example, but remain the leading issues in sub-Saharan Africa. The second leading cause of death is smoking and secondhand smoke—responsible for 6.3 million deaths worldwide, with the risk burdens highest in Western Europe and North America. And alcohol comes in third, accounting for 4.9 million deaths in 2010, which were concentrated mostly in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. But there is a silver lining: these risk factors are all avoidable. "The good news is there are lots of things we can do to reduce disease risk," says Ezzati. "To bring down the burden of high blood pressure, we need to regulate the salt content of food, provide easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthen primary healthcare services."

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