India ranks very high among the nations struck by the rising wave of “premature deaths” caused by non-communicable diseases, mainly heart and blood ailments, the WHO said in its latest report on Wednesday.

The report said that cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory problems, blood pressure and diabetes are an offshoot of growing affluence of the middle classes as well as worsening health conditions among people below poverty line.

“Exposure to the four main behavioural risk factors that contribute to NCDs — tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets, remains high worldwide and is increasing in the majority of low-and middle-income countries,” said Ala Alwan, WHO’s Assistant Director General.

India is placed in the “lower middle” income group.

Barring Afghanistan, India is worst affected by what are often described as NCDs (non-communicable diseases) in South Asia with around 38 per cent of premature deaths of males and 32.1 per cent of females below 60 years.

The total number of NCD deaths are estimated at around 2967.6 (000s) in males and 2273.8 (000s) females.

“NCDs are estimated to account for 53 per cent of all deaths,” said the WHO’s “Non-communicable Diseases Country profiles” on India.

Rising incomes and insecurity caused by the stress factors have contributed to 24 per cent cardio-vascular diseases which are primarily centred on stroke and heart attack.

The second high death component in the CVDs is due to respiratory diseases, primarily lung and pulmonary diseases, which claimed around 11 per cent of lives. Deaths from other NCDs and diabetes account for 12 per cent.

India also ranks among the top 10 countries burdened with highest mortality arising from countries of communicable diseases, especially tuberculosis, as well as high maternal and child mortality.

Around 37 per cent of deaths in India are caused due to communicable, maternal, prenatal and nutritional conditions.

In sharp contrast, India’s neighbours such as China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are among other nations having low proportion of premature deaths due to NCDs.

The report said “common, preventable risk factors” are a leading cause of the death and disability burden in nearly all countries regardless of economic development.

In India and elsewhere, the leading risk factor for mortality is blood pressure (responsible for 13 per cent of deaths globally), followed by tobacco use (9 per cent), raised blood glucose (6 per cent), physical inactivity (6 per cent), and overweight and obesity (5 per cent).

With changing food habits and growing consumption of tobacco among population aged 15 or older, deaths from NCDs are bound to engulf the world, said medical professionals.

In addition, rising physical inactivity in which the percentage of the population aged 15 or oder engaging in less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per week or less than 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times per week, raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, overweight, obesity, and raised cholesterol, are transforming India into a NCD country.