September 13th, 2011
08:01 PM ET
The major killers in the world are not infectious diseases, insidious viruses or bacteria.
The leading causes of deaths worldwide are noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes. These diseases killed more than 36 million people in 2008, according a report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization.
Heart disease deaths were responsible for 48% of these deaths, cancers 21%, chronic lung diseases 12%, and diabetes 3%. In many cases these are preventable deaths that are related to unhealthy habits such as smoking, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets.
Infectious diseases such as diarrheal diseases (2.46 million deaths) and HIV/AIDS (1.78 million deaths) trailed behind heart and lung diseases, according to the WHO's list of the top causes of death.
People who live in low-income countries are three times more likely to die from one of the noncommunicable diseases before the age of 60, than those who live in high-income countries, according to the report. And the data showed that unhealthy habits are increasing in most of the low and middle-income countries.
Each of the 193 WHO member states received the request for health data in 2009 and the WHO compiled this report. For only the second time in its history, the United Nation's General Assembly, which is meeting next week, has put a health issue on its agenda. Nations will meet on September 19 through 20 to develop an international plan for preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases.
WHO has tried to address the lifestyle problems associated with these diseases. In 2008, the WHO passed a tobacco policy to discourage smoking, recommending that countries monitor tobacco use, offer smoking cessation help, put warnings about the dangers of tobacco, ban ads, and raise taxes on the products.
In high-income countries like the United States, noncommunicable diseases account for 87% of all deaths.
Heart disease (35%) is the leading noncommunicable disease in the U.S., followed by cancers (23%), lung disease (7%) and diabetes (3%). According to the WHO, 70% of Americans are considered overweight or obese.
Since the 1980s, the average blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar level and cholesterol have all increased.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that $40 million will go to health departments around the country for chronic disease prevention programs. The federal agency announced a partnership Tuesday with the private sector called Million Hearts with the goal to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.