Heart disease, deaths from cancer to soar Lethal habits spreading from the United States, world health agency says

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Cancer deaths will double in many countries and heart diseases will soar worldwide over the next 25 years, the World Health Organization predicts, in part because of lethal habits spreading from the United States.

The rise in these diseases will be especially troublesome for developing countries already battling infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, WHO says in its annual report, being released today.


A big part of the cause of the increase, the report's author said, is that the United States has helped sell cigarette smoking and a fatty diet to the world.

"We know what's happening in these populations," said David Brandling-Bennett, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, WHO's regional office in Washington. "They are eating more calories, switching to fatty foods, living sedentary lifestyles and smoking."


WHO scientists called on the United States to become a role model for a healthy lifestyle.

"Just as North America has exported negative aspects of its culture, we hope it will export positive aspects of its culture as well," Brandling-Bennett said.

Of the 52 million deaths worldwide last year, the report said, more than 17 million were caused by infectious diseases, more than 15 million by heart disease, more than 6 million by cancer and about 3 million by respiratory diseases.

Smoking-related diseases alone accounted for about 3 million deaths, the report said. In many countries, said Paul Kleihues, WHO's chief cancer researcher, smoking is seen as part of the acquisition of a Western lifestyle.

Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, which makes Camel cigarettes, disputed the idea that the United States was at fault for spreading smoking.

"It is somewhat naive to leap to the conclusion that people in countries outside the U.S. did not smoke before U.S. tobacco companies entered those markets," Smith said.

"What international competition affects is the brand choice of smokers," she said. "It is not whether they will smoke but what brands they will smoke."

R. J. Reynolds' domestic sales last year were $4.5 billion. Its international sales were $3.6 billion. Smith said the world cigarette market was growing at the rate of about 1 percent a year.


All this causes worry at WHO, a Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit organization that works to improve health conditions around the world.

About 10 million cases of cancer were diagnosed last year, slightly more than half of them in developing countries. In 2020, the report estimates, at least 15 million people will develop cancer, with a doubling of cases in developing countries.

The rates of heart disease will also rise, especially in the developing world, but WHO researchers said the increase is harder to quantify. Heart disease might be more easily headed off with lifestyle changes than cancer is.

Diabetes -- another disease largely triggered by lifestyle and diet -- will likely afflict about 300 million people by 2025, up from 135 million cases now, the report said. Cases will triple in the developing world and increase by 45 percent in the industrialized world.

Pub Date: 5/05/97