General population-based studies, the chronic kidney disease (CKD) prognosis consortium and renal registries worldwide have contributed to the description of the scale of CKD as a public health problem. Since 1990, CKD has been included in the list of non-communicable diseases investigated by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. The GBD represents a systematic, high-quality, scientific effort to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries and risk factors. This article provides an outline of the place of CKD in the ranking of these diseases and the change over time. Whereas age-standardized death and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) rates due to non-communicable diseases in general have been declining, such favourable trends do not exist for CKD. Altogether the GBD reports indicate increasing rates for death and DALYs due to CKD with huge variation across the globe. A substantial component of the observed increase in mortality attributable to CKD relates to that caused by diabetes mellitus and hypertension. For the increase in DALYs, CKD due to diabetes mellitus appears to be the main contributor. It is possible that these trends are in part due to new data becoming available or different coding behaviour over time, including greater specificity of coding. Although some feel there is evidence of overdiagnosis, it seems clear that in many regions CKD and its risk factors are a growing public health problem and in some of them rank very high as cause of years of life lost and DALYs. Therefore, public health policies to address this problem as well as secondary prevention in high-risk groups remain greatly needed.