On Non-Communicable Diseases

In 2008, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for 63 percent of all deaths worldwide. According the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent Global Status Report on Non-communicable Diseases, without an intervention, NCDs are “projected to kill 52 million people annually by 2030.” By informing the public about their risk, encouraging them to make healthy lifestyle changes, and improving treatment for individuals with NCDs, it may help to reduce the incidence of these diseases globally.

NCDs, which include diabetes and cancer, are defined as chronic conditions or diseases which do not result from an acute infectious process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that half of all deaths in the U.S. each year are due to heart disease, cancer, or stroke. In addition to the incidence of NCDs in developed nations, a reported 80 percent of the 36.1 million NCD-associated deaths in 2008 occurred in developing nations. While NCDs can present a burden for any nation’s healthcare infrastructure, Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, notes that “for some countries it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster.”

Reports indicate that cardiovascular diseases account for the majority of NCD-related deaths, or 17 million annually, followed by cancer (7.6 million annually), respiratory disease (4.2 million annually), and diabetes (1.3 million annually). These four groups of diseases account for nearly 80 percent of all NCD deaths, and share four common risk factors:  tobacco use, inadequate physical activity, harmful alcohol use, and poor diet. Almost six million people die as a result of tobacco use each year, and 2.5 million die from alcohol-related causes. In addition, lack of exercise and poor diet contribute to obesity, increasing individual’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

To lessen the impact that NCDs have on global health, the WHO has suggested that a number of measures be taken, including banning smoking in public places and promoting public awareness about the importance of diet and exercise. Encouraging individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices and providing them with information about how to improve their health, it may be possible to reduce the number of NCD-related deaths worldwide.


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