02:09 AM April 6th, 2013

By: Shin Young-soo, April 6th, 2013 02:09 AM

The leading cause of preventable death isn’t tobacco or drug use.  Neither is it bad diet or lack of exercise.

It’s high blood pressure, also called hypertension.  And it’s implicated in many of the heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases that account for about one-third of all deaths.

Worldwide, one in three adults has high blood pressure. It kills 9.4 million people each year. If we don’t act, it will kill 1 billion in this century.

We are taking action.

We’re raising awareness by making high blood pressure the theme of the 65th World Health Day on April 7.

And we’re urging everyone to change their lifestyles to help control high blood pressure:

Eat foods low in salt and fat. Exercise. Avoid tobacco and second-hand smoke. Don’t drink so much alcohol that it begins to harm your health. And maintain a healthy body weight. Also, see your physicians and faithfully take medicine they may prescribe to treat high blood pressure.

Policy-makers can help by raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, by banning tobacco marketing and indoor smoking and by warning people about tobacco’s harms. They can work with industry to reduce the salt and fat content of processed foods and encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables. And they can design neighborhoods and public transit systems that encourage people to walk and bicycle.

High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because most people don’t know they have it until their physician checks them for it. In fact, most people with high blood pressure have no obvious symptoms.

If you think that high blood pressure is just for old people, think again. Many young people have it.

Although it is usually associated with men, many women have it as well. In the 37 countries and areas of the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region, one of every three women older than 24 have it, and it is implicated in 10 percent of deaths of women during or soon after pregnancy.

WHO is best known for its eradication of smallpox in the 1970s and for its heroic efforts against other infectious diseases, such as polio, measles, tuberculosis and HIV.

However, WHO is increasingly pitted against noncommunicable diseases—heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases—that account for 63 percent of deaths worldwide.

Recently, WHO and its member-states committed themselves to reduce premature deaths from these diseases by 25 percent by 2025. I’m confident that we’ll succeed, but only if we get high blood pressure under control.

Everybody needs to be part of the solution. Governments have especially important roles to play. But it all starts with individuals and families.

On World Health Day, and every day, know and control your blood pressure.

Dr. Shin Young-soo is the regional director of WHO Western Pacific.

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