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Headlines Published on 12 October 2004

Title WHO’s new atlas of global heart disease and stroke

To underline the importance of the recent World Heart Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published the first edition of its ‘Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke’ – a comprehensive tome aimed at promoting constructive decision-making by individuals, health professionals and policy-makers at all levels, including the European Union.

The unthinkable: obesity and heart disease in children © Image: WHO
The unthinkable: obesity and heart disease in children
© Image: WHO
Heart disease and strokes kill around 17 million people a year, almost one-third of all deaths globally. On current form, these two diseases could become the leading cause of both death and disability worldwide by 2020, killing potentially 20 million or more a year, and rising by several hundred thousand annually. The profile of people affected by these diseases is also changing rapidly, say the WHO.

Dr Robert Beaglehole, WHO’s Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion, says the old stereotype of cardiovascular diseases affecting only overweight and stressed middle-aged men in developed countries is passé. “Today, men, women and children are at risk, and 80% of the burden is in low- and middle-income countries.”

Heart disease and stroke not only take lives, but they also put a huge economic burden on governments, whose health systems are struggling to keep up. The atlas – published by the WHO together with the USA’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – should be a significant new resource for global advocacy and education activities aimed at tackling this growing problem.

A preventable epidemic
Co-authors of the atlas, Dr Judith Mackay and CDC’s Dr George Mensah, say that this problem will not be fixed by advanced medicine alone. The take-home message is that any successful campaign against heart disease and stroke will involve prevention focused strongly on reducing the risk factors. To achieve this, they say that “encouraging our children to adopt healthy lifestyle habits and introducing appropriate policies and intervention programmes” is a must.

For the first time in one publication, the atlas assembles the latest data for each country, and presents it in colourful maps, photographs and images. It also provides statistics on the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including high blood pressure, tobacco, physical inactivity, obesity, lipids and diabetes. Other aspects affecting these diseases are examined as well, such as the similarities and differences between countries, the economic burden, policies and legislation, prevention, treatment and forecasts.

The atlas was launched to coincide with World Heart Day on 26 September, a global promotional effort for preventing heart disease and stroke. Because children are adopting increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, the focus this year was ‘Children, adolescents and heart disease’. Obesity, poor diets, smoking and physical inactivity, the leading causes of heart disease and stroke, are now being seen at an alarmingly early age.

Indeed, EU policy under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) targets ‘Food safety and quality’ as a major priority, especially research directed towards improving understanding of the links between food and health.

Source:  WHO

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More information:

  • Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke
  • World Heart Day
  • WHO
  • CDC
  • ‘Food quality and safety’ theme (FP6)

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