GENEVA -- The World Health Organization published a report Wednesday showing the prevalence of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular illness around the world, along with countries' abilities to cope with the growing number of people affected by them.
The U.N. health agency said so-called noncommunicable diseases killed more than 36 million people combined in 2008, the most recent year for which global data is available.
About a quarter of those deaths – some 9 million – were classed as "premature" because they occurred in people under 60, WHO said. Most premature deaths were in poor countries, which struggle to provide the drugs and treatments accessible to people in the developed world.
WHO accompanied the report with interactive maps intended to easily highlight how countries compare to each other. The release was timed to coincide with the first United Nations summit on chronic diseases that takes place at the General Assembly in New York this week.
Many chronic diseases are the result of unhealthy habits such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise.
WHO found that efforts to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels in recent decades are having an impact on the prevalence of some of these diseases.