Global Health Quiz: How to Save 36 Million Lives

If the world’s death toll from chronic diseases eased just a little bit, 36 million lives could be saved by 2015, health experts report.

All it would take is an additional 2 percent yearly drop in deaths from chronic diseases, the researchers estimate. Chronic diseases include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Easier said than done? Several research teams offer their suggestions in The Lancet.

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Global Health Quiz

First, test your knowledge of the world’s health:

1. Which country has the largest number of people with diabetes in the world?

2. How many men in China smoke cigarettes: 5 million, 50 million, or more than 300 million?

3. True or false: Most people who die of chronic diseases in low- or middle-income countries are middle-aged.

4. How many people will die of chronic diseases worldwide in 2005: 10 million, 25 million, or 35 million?

5. What percentage of those deaths is expected in low- and middle-income countries? 25 percent, 65 percent, or 80 percent?

The answers may surprise you:

1. India has the largest number of people in the world with diabetes.

2. More than 300 million men in China smoke cigarettes.

3. True. Most people who die of chronic disease in low- or middle-income countries are middle-aged, not elderly.

4. Thirty-five million people worldwide are expected to die of chronic diseases in 2005. That’s out of 58 million global deaths of all causes.

5. Eighty percent of deaths from chronic diseases are expected in low- and middle-income countries.

Those facts are based on data from the World Health Organization, as noted in The Lancet.

If smoking, obesity, and diabetes rise in low- and middle-income countries, chronic disease might take even more lives in those countries, write the researchers. They included the World Health Organization’s Kathleen Strong, PhD.

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Countries have made dramatic health improvements before.

“The experience of high-income countries clearly shows what can be achieved with sustained interventions,” write Strong and colleagues.

“Death rates from heart disease have fallen by up to 70% in the past three decades in Australia, Canada, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.,” they continue. “Between 1970 and 2000, 14 million deaths due to [heart] disease were averted in the U.S. alone.”

The trick is extending that trend to countries that are less wealthy and have fewer medical resources.

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Strategies for Saving Lives

Curbing global deaths from chronic diseases will take a lot of work on many fronts, write Strong and colleagues.

Each person can make a difference. Health experts generally recommend being physically active, eating healthfully, staying (or getting) in shape, avoiding harmful substances (like tobacco smoke), and getting recommended medical care.

Efforts are also needed on a bigger scale. Any single person or group probably can’t single-handedly reach the goal; new coalitions must be built, write the researchers.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Strong, K. The Lancet, Oct. 5, 2005; online edition. Reddy, K. The Lancet, Oct. 5, 2005; online edition. Wang, L. The Lancet, Oct. 5, 2005; online edition. News release, The Lancet.