High blood pressure is the biggest global killer…but obesity isn't far behind, warn leading scientists
Smoking and alcohol came second and third, says study which looked at 43 risk factors over 20 yearsToo much salt and not enough fruit partly to blame
High body mass index was the biggest ‘climber’, moving from tenth place to sixth
17:56 GMT, 13 December 2012
High blood pressure killed more than nine million people worldwide in 2010, making it the greatest overall health risk.
Smoking and alcohol came second and third, according to the study which looked at the trends of 43 risks between 1990 and 2010.
High body mass index was the biggest ‘climber’, moving from tenth place in 1990 to sixth in 2010.
High blood pressure killed more than nine million people worldwide in 2010, making it the greatest overall health risk
That year more than three million deaths were attributable to excess body weight – more than three times as many as under-nutrition.
In Australasia and southern Latin America, high BMI ranked as the leading risk factor.
The research, published in The Lancet, was carried out by an international consortium of scientists as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.
Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London, said: '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.
'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.'
High body mass index was the biggest 'climber', moving from tenth place in 1990 to sixth in 2010
The researchers estimated both the number of deaths attributed to each risk factor and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a unit that takes into account both years of life lost and years lived with disability.
Prof Stephen Lim, of the University of Washington, said: 'We looked at risk factors for which good data are available on how many people are exposed to the risks and how strong their effects are, so that our results can inform policy and programmatic choices.'
Smoking, including second-hand smoke, was the risk factor with the biggest burden in western Europe and high-income North American countries, and accounted for 6.3 million deaths worldwide in 2010.
Dietary risk factors and physical inactivity collectively accounted for one tenth of DALYs in 2010, with the most prominent dietary risks being too much salt and not enough fruit.
Prof Ezzati said: 'The good news is there are lots of things we can do to reduce disease risk.
'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.
'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.'