Preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by reducing environmental risk factors

A new World Health Organization (WHO) report highlights the links between air pollution and the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (also called NCDs) that is affecting people worldwide. Heart disease, stroke, lung disease and cancers, are among the top five causes of death today, and one-quarter to one-third of deaths from these diseases are due to air pollution according to the WHO estimates. All in all, ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution caused more than 6 million deaths from these diseases in 2012. Noncommunicable diseases are often associated with preventable risk factors like physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol and tobacco. What is less well known is that environmental factors are also main causes. The importance of environmental factors as “health risks” has increased in past decades as public health campaigns gained ground against many infectious disease threats. At the same time, peoples’ diets changed, physical activity levels decreased and developing cities have experienced rapid growth, with high levels of air pollution from traffic, waste and industrial sources. The report, ‘Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) by Reducing Environmental Risk Factors’, says globally 23% of all deaths could be prevented through healthier environments. Children are most at risk with growing evidence indicating that early life exposure to environmental risks like chemicals and air pollutants increases the lifetime risk of developing NCDs.

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