Chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke, often associated with a Western lifestyle, have become the chief causes of death globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
The shift from infectious diseases including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria — traditionally the biggest killers — to noncommunicable diseases is set to continue to 2030, the U.N. agency said in a report.
"In more and more countries, the chief causes of deaths are noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and stroke," Ties Boerma, director of the WHO department of health statistics and informatics, said in a statement.
The annual report, World Health Statistics 2008, is based on data collected from the WHO's 193 member states.
It documents levels of mortality in children and adults, patterns of disease, and the prevalence of risk factors such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
"As populations age in middle- and low-income countries over the next 25 years, the proportion of deaths due to noncommunicable diseases will rise significantly," it said.
By 2030, deaths due to cancer, cardiovascular diseases and traffic accidents will together account for about 30 percent of all deaths, it said.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, in a speech to the WHO's annual assembly on Monday, voiced concern at the growing toll of chronic noncommunicable diseases.
"Diabetes and asthma are on the rise everywhere. Even low-income countries are seeing shocking increases in obesity, especially in urban areas and often starting in childhood," Chan said.
Tobacco use is the single largest cause of preventable death worldwide, killing "a third to a half of all those who use it," according to the WHO. It contributes to deaths from ischaemic heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which numbered 5.4 million in 2004.
More than 80 percent of the 8.3 million tobacco-attributable deaths projected to occur in 2030 will be in developing countries, it says.