Non-communicable diseases

In the midst of burgeoning world economies, the bearing of differing life styles on the varying patterns of health among different individuals has been clearly noticeable. However, there is no place where life style has had such an immense impact as in its contribution to the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

A non-communicable disease (NCD) is a disease that is not transmissible directly from one person to another. Risk factors such raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol; tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and being overweight; all of which are modifiable risk factors greatly contribute to prevalence of non-communicable diseases. The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart disease and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. Currently, non-communicable diseases kill 36 million people a year, a number that by some estimates is expected to rise by 17-24% within the next decade.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) tend to be of long duration and are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors.

Who is at risk of such diseases?

People of all age groups, regions and countries are affected by NCDs. These conditions are often associated with older age groups, but evidence shows that 15 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Of these “premature” deaths, over 85% are estimated to occur in low- and middle-income countries. Children, adults and the elderly are all vulnerable to the risk factors contributing to NCDs, whether from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and exposure to tobacco smoke or the harmful use of alcohol.

These diseases are driven by forces that include rapid unplanned urbanization, globalization of unhealthy lifestyles and population ageing. Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity may show up in people as raised blood pressure, increased blood glucose, elevated blood lipids and obesity. These are called metabolic risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease, the leading NCD in terms of premature deaths.

The impact of risk factors

Tobacco accounts for over 7.2 million deaths every year (including from the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke), and is projected to increase markedly over the coming years. Over 4 million of annual deaths have been attributed to excess salt/sodium intake. More than half of the 3.3 million annual deaths attributable to alcohol use are from NCDs, including cancer. Over 1.6 million deaths annually are attributable to insufficient physical activity.

Metabolic risk factors; metabolic risk factors contribute to four key metabolic changes that increase the risk of NCDs: These include: raised blood pressure, overweight/obesity, hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) and hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood). In terms of the impact on mortality, the leading metabolic risk factor globally is elevated blood pressure (to which 19% of global deaths are attributed), followed by overweight and obesity and raised blood glucose.

If present growth trends stand, non-communicable deaths are projected to cause 7 out of 10 deaths in developing countries by 2020. It is however estimated that if the primary risks were eliminated, 80% of the cases of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancers could be prevented


  1. Non-communicable Diseases Deemed Development Challenge of epidemic Proportions in political Declaration Adopted during Landmark General Assembly Summit” United Nations. Department of public information 19 September 2011

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