A report released by the World Health Organization on Monday said that unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol abuse, as well as consuming too much salt, sugar and fat were leading to sicknesses that killed around 16 million people each year - up from 14.6 million in 2000. Another major factor was a lack of physical activity.
The report said such habits led to such non-communicable diseases as cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, lung disease and various forms of cancer. Such illnesses, the report said, killed 38 million people worldwide in 2012, 16 million of whom were under the age of 70 - which is classed by the WHO as premature.
The United Nations agency estimated that of these, more than 80 percent occurred in countries with developing and emerging economies.
The WHO's director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, used the launch of the report at the WHO's headquarters in Geneva to issue a call for urgent government action to reduce the number of deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCD).
"The global community has the chance to change the course of the NCD epidemic," Chan said. "By investing just US$ 1-3 (0.86-2.58 euros) per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs."
The report also pointed to some success stories in governments' efforts to reduce their citizens' bad consumption habits through what it described as "best buy" or most cost-effective strategies, including public awareness campaigns or imposing taxes aimed at reducing consumption of unhealthy products.
It said that in Turkey, the number of smokers had dropped by more than 13 percent since 2008, due to a ban on advertizing tobacco products, as well as significant price increases and health warnings.
Even more impressive was a drop of more than 25 percent in sales of junk foods with high sugar, salt or caffeine content in Hungary, a year after the government imposed a heavy tax on such products.
pfd/bw (dpa, AFP)