More than 70% of the 28 million deaths from chronic non-communicable diseases – such as vascular diseases, cancers in general, lung diseases, dementias – and 82% of the 16 million premature deaths from such diseases occur in countries with low and middle income populations. This piece of information is contained in the World Health Organization (WHO)'s 2015 report.
According to the doctor and Associate Professor of Neurology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Charles André, such disparity between the number of deaths in the countries occurs for many reasons: greater growth and aging of the population in less developed countries, difficulty in controlling the classic risk factors, progressive changes in lifestyle habits – sedentary lifestyle, diets rich in fats, worse hospital-medical care, as well as new factors such as environmental pollutants and early malnutrition, which also affect these countries asymmetrically.
The report also highlights that the majority of premature deaths from chronic non-communicable diseases are preventable and share common risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Therefore, the number of deaths from chronic non-communicable diseases can be significantly reduced through government policies aimed at addressing such risk factors and providing greater health coverage.
Following the release of the report, a number of countries have established new measures to achieve global targets for reducing the burden of chronic non-communicable diseases and preventing deaths. Brazil, for example, has entered into a commitment with WHO, called "25-25 Plan", to reduce mortality by 25% by 2025.
To achieve such goal, Dr. Charles André believes the dissemination of pertinent information must be improved, as well as establishing public policies to reduce obvious factors and allocating resources in a rational manner. Examples of control measures are: increasing taxes on foods high in fats or salt and allocation of resources from regulations on alcoholic beverages or tobacco products for the health area itself.
There are also ongoing initiatives to encourage civil society education in combating such diseases, such as programs to encourage children school attendance, combat child obesity, programs to assess prevailing factors and encourage behavior change in small towns, applications for self-assessment of risks, practical tips for behavior changes, research funding, among others.
As prevention strategies, Dr. Charles states that there are two basic types of approach. The first is to identify high-risk individuals, such as hypertensive or obese individuals and smokers, for example, and try to control and/or eliminate such factors. The problem, according to the doctor, is that the population does not actively participate in this approach, and "waits" for their health condition to reach a certain level so as to try treatment, which is, at this point, evidently more expensive. In addition, many cases occur in people classified as relatively low risk individuals.
The second approach is more populational, in which each individual tries to assess their own risks. Today, there are easy resources to assess such risks, including mobile applications. Even if low, the risk can always be reduced.
"A 35-year-old who has a mild cholesterol disorder and practices physical activity three times a week, for example, by changing dietary habits and increasing exercise frequency to five times a week, may have risks even more reduced", he says Dr. Charles André, who believes that initiatives like those, multiplied by millions of people, can have a greater impact on the incidence and mortality related to such diseases.