High blood pressure, smoking and alcohol abuse are the three leading causes of premature death worldwide, research has shown.
The Global Burden of Disease Study revealed that all three have moved past child hunger in the last 20 years as the most common reasons for early deaths.
Data revealed that high blood pressure is the biggest problem, with nine million people dying as result of it in 2010. Smoking (6.3 million) and alcohol (4.9 million) followed shortly behind.
Although these are the biggest killers overall, results showed there is a lot of regional variation in the risk factors.
In high-income countries in western Europe and North America smoking was highlighted as the biggest problem, while alcohol caused the most deaths in eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and large parts of Latin America.
Obesity failed to break into the top five concerns worldwide, but results showed it was the fastest-growing concern, rising from 10th in 1990 to sixth two years ago.
More than three million deaths in 2010 were linked with having a high BMI, which was more than three times the amount from malnutrition.
Health concerns related to being overweight were the biggest concerns across southern Latin America and Australasia.
The study looked at the differences between common health risk factors in 1990 and 2010.
Researchers estimated the amount of deaths for each health concern over that period and worked out the disability-adjusted life years, which measures how many years were lost and lived with disability.
The results have been published in The Lancet journal along with a number of other papers.
These combined findings equate to the largest global examination of the burden of disease, health risks and injury ever completed.
Professor Majid Ezzati, who was one of the study leaders at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, explained that overall there have been differences between the risks associated with adults and children.
“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,” he said.
“But this global picture disguises the starkly different trends across regions. The risks associated with poverty have come down in most places, like Asia and Latin America, but they remain the leading issues in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Prof Ezzati added that although risks are increasing the good news is that plenty can be done to help with these problems.
“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,” he said.
“Under-nutrition has come down in the ranking because we’ve made a lot of progress in many parts of the world. This should encourage us to continue those efforts and to replicate that success in Africa, where it’s still a major problem.”