United Nations: A new finding by the United Nations World Health Organisations on Thursday revealed that non-communicable diseases are the "leading killer" and are on a high across the world.

"The rise of chronic non-communicable diseases presents an enormous challenge," said Margaret Chan, head of WHO, after releasing the report in Moscow on Wednesday.

"For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies," she

In 2008, 36.1 million people died from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes, the WHO said. Nearly 80 percent of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

"Chronic non-communicable diseases deliver a two-punch blow to development. They cause billions of dollars in losses of national income, and they push millions of people below the
poverty line, each and every year," she said.

The report said that cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17 million people annually, followed by cancer (7.6 million), respiratory disease (4.2 million) and diabetes (1.3 million).

Tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and poor diets were four recurring factors in these diseases.

WHO said that millions of deaths can be prevented by stronger implementation of measures that exist today, which include stronger anti-tobacco controls and promoting healthier diets, physical activity, and reducing harmful use of alcohol.

"About 30 percent of people dying from NCDs in low- and middle-income countries are aged under 60 years and are in their most productive period of life," said Ala Alwan, a top WHO official.

"These premature deaths are all the more tragic because they are largely preventable," Alwan said.