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International News

Sex, Alcohol, Fat Among World's Big Killers

November 2, 2009

About a quarter of the 60 million premature deaths globally each year are due to unsafe sex, poor childhood nutrition, alcohol, inadequate sanitation and hygiene, and high blood pressure, according to a new World Health Organization report. Global life expectancy could gain almost five years if these five problems were tackled, said WHO's "Global Health Risks" report.

HIV/AIDS is the world's sixth biggest killer. In 2004, unsafe sex was responsible for more than 99 percent of HIV infections in Africa, the only region where more women than men have HIV/AIDS, noted the report. Elsewhere, the proportion of HIV deaths due to risky sexual behaviors ranged from about 50 percent in low- and middle-income countries of WHO's Western Pacific Region to 90 percent in countries of the Americas with similar resources.

Sexually acquired human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is responsible for virtually all cervical cancer, which represents 11 percent of global mortality due to unsafe sex, stated the report. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in WHO's African Region. "Almost three-quarters of the global burden of unsafe sex occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 15 percent in India and other countries of the Southeast Asia Region," it said.

"As health improves, gains can multiply," the report said. "Reducing the burden of disease in the poor may raise income levels, which in turn will further help to reduce health inequalities."

"The poorest countries still face a high and concentrated burden from poverty, under-nutrition, unsafe sex, unsafe water and sanitation," WHO said. "At the same time, dietary risk factors for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity, coupled with insufficient physical activity, are responsible for an increasing proportion of the total disease burden."

The report can be found at

Back to other news for November 2009

Adapted from:
10.28.2009; Kate Kelland

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Treatment in the Developing World
More Global HIV Statistics