Chronic diseases are those that can develop over time, and may last a lifetime. Most do not have a cure and much of the treatment is directed at reducing the effect of symptoms on daily life. The long lasting nature of chronic disease places a heavy burden on health care systems worldwide. Chronic diseases are mainly thought to be a product of lifestyle factors in combination with genetics and social environment. Therefore there is much emphasis on prevention through diet and physical activity interventions as well as education and public policy changes.
Three chronic diseases currently reaching epidemic proportions worldwide are:
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a broad term for any condition that affects the cardiovascular system. This includes the heart, veins, arteries and the blood transported by these organs. CVD is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It most often becomes apparent later in life but the risk factors can begin to accumulate from an early age. These risk factors include: an inadequate diet, lack of physical activity, overweight and obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress as well as genetic predispositions. These risk factors can contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (thickening of arteries).These two conditions can eventually lead to a cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke). One of the dangers of CVD is that it frequently goes undiagnosed. Hypertension and atherosclerosis often do not show symptoms until they are very advanced. At the advanced stage, the risk of a serious and potentially deadly cardiovascular event is high. Therefore prevention through lifestyle interventions (diet, physical activity and stress reduction) as well as screening for hypertension and atherosclerosis are very important.
Type II Diabetes
Type II Diabetes is a condition that results in high blood sugar due to the body no longer producing enough insulin (as a result of persistently high blood sugar over time) or the body’s cells no longer responding to insulin (due to chronically high levels of insulin leading to insulin resistance). The cause of Type II Diabetes is largely due to lifestyle factors including diet and physical activity. Obesity is a major risk factor for the onset of type II diabetes. There are high rates amongst low income, the obese and increasing rates among children. Education and information about Type II Diabetes is limited amongst low income populations, particularly those in developing nations and new immigrants. Therefore many people around the world have untreated, undiagnosed or poorly managed Type II Diabetes. With diet and physical activity interventions, along with education and information, Type II diabetes can be largely controlled or even prevented.
Obesity is classified as a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. Often in obese individuals, body fat builds up to the point that health problems occur. Obesity is caused by numerous factors including diet, genetics and a lack of physical activity. Obesity is believed to contribute to almost every disease, may be passed on from one generation to the next and places a huge burden on the health care system. Developed nations, where food is abundant for most populations, are not the only ones with high obesity rates. Nutrition transition is a term used to describe the adoption of a “western” diet high in sugar, fat, salt over a traditional diet. Food security has shown to also be a factor in the development of obesity. Global strategies and research are focused on tackling the obesity epidemic at the individual level (diet, physical activity and education interventions) as well as at the societal level with changes to public policy.