This report uses a comprehensive framework for studying health risks developed for The world health report 2002, which presented estimates for the year 2000. The report provides an update for the year 2004 for 24 global risk factors. It uses updated information from WHO programmes and scientific studies for both exposure data and the causal associations of risk exposure to disease and injury outcomes. The burden of disease attributable to risk factors is measured in terms of lost years of healthy life using the metric of the disability-adjusted life year. The DALY combines years of life lost due to premature death with years of healthy life lost due to illness and disability.
Although there are many possible definitions of “health risk”, it is defined in this report as “a factor that raises the probability of adverse health outcomes”. The number of such factors is countless and the report does not attempt to be comprehensive. For example, some important risks associated with exposure to infectious disease agents or with antimicrobial resistance are not included. The report focuses on selected risk factors which have global spread, for which data are available to estimate population exposures or distributions, and for which the means to reduce them are known.