Lifestyle diseases, can they be prevented?
Updated: Mar 17
Author: Dr. Blaise Ntacyabukura
Lifestyle diseases, also known as chronic diseases or diseases of “rich people”, came to the attention of everyone after the onset of global industrialization. They were initially called the disease of “western countries” because they are associated with new lifestyles that came with the modern way of life. Internationally, they are now referred to as non-communicable diseases. Currently, they are more common in developing countries and affect more poor individuals.
The most common non-communicable diseases are heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mental health disorders, and some types of cancer. What they all have in common is that they contribute to loss of independence, years of disability, or death, and impose a considerable economic burden on health services.
Before going far on this topic, there is a basic question everyone should ask, what could really make someone get a non-communicable disease?
During our life, which usually lasts up to 75 years on average, we are exposed to many things that determine if we will have healthy or poor health outcomes. In summary, the person we are, the conditions of the environments we spend most of our time in, and individual lifestyle choices during our childhood and adulthood life contribute highly to the risk of having these diseases.
Your health status and outcome depends on:
Individual lifestyle factors such as your age, sex, disability, addictions, and behaviors.
Generally, non-communicable diseases share some risk factors. Factors like age, smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets have a positive association with the (early) onset of chronic diseases. Being female or male can expose you further, depending on which disease, similarly to personal behaviors that expose you to potential health hazards or benefits. It is always your sole responsibility to improve, adapt, or drop different behaviors depending on whether they are helping you or not to live a healthful life. Examples of bad behaviors include Having multiple sexual partners and not using condoms, smoking tobacco, physical inactivity, poor sleep, eating unhealthy foods regularly, etc. (Check our blog to learn more).
Social and community networks that you are born, grow, live, or work in also determine your health outcomes no matter what. Factors such as stress, safety, social inclusion, work, unemployment, social support, racism, access to food, housing, and transport have a lot to say about your well-being as well as your health outcomes. In fact, they can be the source of health problems or impede good health outcomes.
General socio-economic, cultural, and environmental conditions: The performance of government systems and services, law, and justice systems also determine the quality of your health and can be a challenge for you to attain good health, free of lifestyle diseases. As a quick example, the strongest predictor of our health and wellbeing is our position on the social gradient (or the ‘social ladder). It is measured by income, education, place of residence, or occupation, where people at the top of the gradient on average live longer and healthier lives. People at the lower end of the social gradient have at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death as those at the top.
So what should we do to prevent lifestyle diseases?
Due to the current public health burden of both infectious and non-communicable diseases, there is a need to address factors that drive the increase in the risk of these diseases from an individual level to a community level.
Interventions that aim to curb the burden of non-communicable diseases should focus on the individual needs of people. Depending on the risk factors individuals are exposed to, those should be high priority targets. Everyone should strive to enable an environment that facilitates and promotes the adoption of healthy behaviors as these can significantly reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases.