28 Aug Defining non-communicable diseases
The non-communicable diseases of today now account for more deaths globally than their life-threatening counterparts: HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. They are the leading cause of death worldwide, with over 60% of the population each year succumbing to some form of a non-communicable disease.
Perhaps one of the most vital tasks at hand is understanding what a non-communicable disease is and what some of the primary causes may be. A non-communicable disease (NCD) is not spread from human-to-human via contact, bodily fluids etc. as with other worldwide diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and others. An NCD is developed over time and is a disease that progresses slowly over a number of years.
Some of the most common NCDs today include: cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (asthma), diabetes and mental health diseases (Alzheimer’s and dementia).
Typically, some of the most common causes of developing an NCD lie in the lifestyle of those affected: tobacco use, harmful alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical inactivity and most importantly today, malnutrition or malnourishment.
A few quick facts about non-communicable diseases
NCD’s account for over 35 million annual deaths, worldwide
Approximately 80% of NCD related deaths occur in low-middle income countries
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 48% of NCD deaths in low-income countries occur before the age of just 70 years old.
The growth of non-communicable diseases
The world of today has moved towards a global nutritional imbalance, characterised by the rise and spread of NCDs. In lower-income countries, obesity rates in rural and urban populations have risen dramatically.
Over the past two decades, dietary patterns in both low-income and higher-income communities have been characterised by an increased intake of animal and hydrogenated fats, and a lower intake of fibre. Additionally, reduced activity and lack of exercise in both types of communities have led to an obesity epidemic.
In many urban and rural parts of low-income countries, increased access to processed, cheaper foods has also given rise to the growing obesity epidemic – leading to an increased sector of the population exposed to malnourishment and the development of chronic non-communicable diseases.
Malnutrition, also known as malnourishment, is a state where your body lacks essential nutrients which are required for vital human functioning. Essentially, it is a state of nutritional imbalance which can be caused by three defining factors:
This is the consumption of too many calories or nutrients which are useful for your body – ultimately leading to diseases such as obesity and other chronic health issues such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Characterised by the consumption of too few calories or nutrients which are used to fulfil the body and its energy needs, under-nutrition can lead to poor health, illness and the development of diseases.
This refers to the improper ratio of nutrients being consumed – if a person intakes more nutrients than is needed, yet avoids other vital nutrients, this can lead to a diet that is unbalanced and unhealthy.
All three of the above states can lead to malnutrition and malnourishment, which in turn, have given rise to the development of non-communicable diseases that many of the world’s population suffer from today.
Today’s most common non-communicable diseases
According to the WHO, a women dies from cervical cancer every two minutes – this makes it the fourth most common female cancer in the world. In countries where HIV statistics are high, it is the leading cause of cancer related deaths.
Women in most developing countries account for an estimated 87% of all cervical cancer cases, globally. The majority of cervical cancers in low-income countries where malnutrition is rife, is caused and exacerbated by persistent infections and high-risk strains of HPV, as well as the accompanying effects of malnutrition.
It is estimated that in today’s world, 415 million people live with diabetes, which accounts for one out of every 11 adults worldwide. 80% of people living with diabetes live in developing countries where obesity and malnutrition has become widespread, and can be attributed to being the leading cause of developing this disease.
Over time, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to complications with vision, poor circulation and amputation of limbs, kidney damage, heart disease and stroke.
Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases and puts many of its sufferers at greater risk of stroke and heart attack. What is incredibly eye-opening is that one in three adults worldwide suffer from hypertension – that is over 1 billion people worldwide.
Hypertension contributes to roughly half of all deaths from stroke and heart disease, while over 75% of deaths from cardiovascular diseases occur in low and middle-income countries. Hypertension and developing further cardiovascular disease is attributed largely to malnutrition and lack of exercise.
Preventing the development of non-communicable diseases
In a world where incomes, lifestyles and diets are so vastly different – where there is such a large imbalance of financial freedom for many living in low-income, developing countries – malnutrition has become a daily reality. However, what can be done on a personal level to prevent the development of an NCD is by being aware of the importance of a maintaining both a balanced diet and lifestyle.
Understanding and listening to what your body needs is vital to keeping it healthy – educate yourself on what eating a balanced diet means, take supplements if needed, make it your mission to understand nutritional facts and labels and get regular check-ups from your physician!