Achieving global targets: Healthy lifestyles to prevent and control non-communicable diseases

News release

BEIJING, 12 November 2013 – Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) —including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases—are the number one public health threat, killing more than 36 million people each year globally. In China, NCDs account for over 80 per cent of its annual deaths and contribute to almost 70 per cent of the total disease burden.

"More than 8 million Chinese people die from NCDs annually, around 3 million of these prematurely. Achieving the global goal of reducing premature NCD mortality by 25 per cent could prevent approximately 6 million premature deaths in China between now and 2025," said Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China, at the media workshop on NCDs in Beijing on 12 November, 2013.

Senior officials from the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) and China Centre for Diseases Prevention and Control (China CDC), Mr Mao Qunan, Dr Wang Bin and Dr Wang Yu, and NCD experts participated in this workshop.

The World Bank estimates that in China, reducing mortality from cardiovascular disease alone by 1 per cent per year over the 30-year period 2010–2040, could generate an economic value equivalent to 68 per cent of China’s real GDP in 2010, or $10.7 trillion USD. The World Economic Forum has identified NCDs as one of the leading threats to global economic growth.

"A large part of the growth in NCDs is caused by unhealthy life styles. Addressing modifiable risks such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and harmful use of alcohol are among most effective interventions to keep people healthy and productive, reducing the individual, societal and economic impact and suffering caused by NCDs," Dr Schwartländer stated.

To strengthen national efforts to address the burden of NCDs, in May 2013 the 66th World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020. This plan provides a road map and a menu of policy options for Member States to achieve a goal of a 25 per cent relative reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025.

This includes a set of global targets for reducing risk factors---for example, 30 per cent reduction of salt intake, 30 per cent reduction of tobacco use, 25 per cent reduction of raised blood pressure, 10 per cent reduction of harmful use of alcohol, 10 per cent reduction of physical inactivity, and zero growth in diabetes/obesity.

WHO recommends a set of cost effective interventions to reduce the risk of NCDs in the population, including stronger tobacco control policy through full implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, improving diet by reducing salt intake and replacing trans fats with unsaturated fats, alcohol regulation, and promoting physically active lifestyles. Secondary prevention includes early diagnosis, effective treatment and access to quality medicines.

China has the largest number of smokers in the world. There are more than 300 million smokers in China, nearly one-third of the world's total. Tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke are significant risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and lung or respiratory tract diseases.

Excessive salt intake, a prevalent modifiable risk factor for NCDs in China, is much higher in China than the WHO daily recommended intake of 5g per person per day.

"To control the prevalence of hypertension, salt reduction is one of the most cost-effective, feasible, and affordable public health interventions," said Dr Wang Yu, Director of Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC).

According to China’s own data, at least 580 million Chinese were estimated to have at least one modifiable NCD-related risk factor in 2010. Between 70 and 85 per cent of these people were under 65.

To tackle the NCD challenge, in 2012, China released the National Plan for NCD Prevention and Treatment (2012-2015), highlighting the importance of both primary prevention of NCDs though promoting healthy life styles, as well as secondary prevention through improving treatment and management of NCDs, especially in primary health care.

"China has made great progress on NCD control, and carried out active preventive strategies and NCD control projects in collaboration with all sectors of society. But there is still much more to do to save millions of lives from NCDs and help people live longer and healthier lives," Dr Schwartländer concluded.

Mr Mao Qunan, spokesperson of NHFPC, emphasized the important role the media can play to improve public awareness, promote behaviour change, and prevent and control NCDs, in collaboration with experts and scientific community.

For more information, please contact

Helen Yu
Communications Officer, WHO in China
Tel: +86 10 65327191