Survey reveals high prevalence of NCD risk factors in Belarus

WHO/ Valiantsin Rusovich

Representatives of the Government of Belarus, the European Union and WHO at the launch event of the STEPS survey 2016 results.

In 2016, Belarus undertook its first nationwide, large-scale survey to study the prevalence of the main risk factors for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) among a representative sample of the population aged 18–69 years. Experts presented the results of the survey, known as STEPS 2016, on 29 August 2017.

STEPS 2016 is based on the WHO STEPwise approach to surveillance. It covers the main NCD risk factors:

  • tobacco use;
  • alcohol consumption;
  • consumption of less than 5 servings of vegetables and/or fruit per day;
  • lack of physical activity;
  • overweight and obesity;
  • raised blood pressure;
  • raised levels of blood sugar and blood cholesterol; and
  • high daily salt intake.

In presenting the results, Minister of Health of Belarus Dr Valery Malashko commented: “For the first time ever, we managed to get a comprehensive overview of the main risk factors of NCDs at the national level. Results of the STEPS survey will be actively used for monitoring the state programme People’s Health and Demographic Security of the Republic of Belarus for 2016–2020.”

Dr Malashko added that the survey results will determine further approaches to NCD prevention and control.

The results of STEPS 2016 indicate that the population of Belarus is at high risk for several NCDs, especially cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Key findings reveal that:

  • 40.5% of adults in Belarus have 3 or more NCD risk factors;
  • 29.6% of adults are daily tobacco smokers, with prevalence 3.8 times higher among males than females and higher among people in rural than urban settings;
  • 52.8% of adults had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days, and 20.2% had followed the most damaging pattern: occasional drinking at high levels (also known as binge drinking);
  • the level of binge drinking is twice as high among males (27.4%) than among females (13.7%);
  • 72.9% of adults do not eat the recommended 5 servings of fruit and/or vegetables per day, with prevalence higher among males;
  • the average consumption of salt is more than twice the WHO recommendation of 5 g per day;
  • 60.6% of adults are overweight or obese and 25.4% are obese, with prevalence higher among females;
  • 44.9% of adults have high blood pressure, and only half of people suffering from high blood pressure reported taking antihypertensive medications; and
  • 38.2% and 3.6% of adults have raised levels of blood cholesterol and blood sugar, respectively.

NCDs remain the main cause of morbidity, disability and premature mortality in Belarus, accounting for 86% of deaths and 77% of overall morbidity.

About STEPS 2016

In 2016, the Government of Belarus adopted the programme People’s Health and Demographic Security of the Republic of Belarus. It aims to address NCDs and ensure a healthy, preventive environment for the population. WHO supports the Government of Belarus in this work by organizing joint programmes and providing international technical assistance.

More than 5000 respondents aged 18–69 years participated in STEPS 2016. They represented the nationwide population, comparable by age, sex and region of residence. The results provide a baseline for the efficient planning of interventions for NCD prevention and control. Similar surveys in the future will enable monitoring of progress and effectiveness of implemented measures. The Government of Belarus expressed interest in conducting a second survey in 2019–2020.

STEPS 2016 was conducted as a part of the European Union-funded BELMED project: “Preventing noncommunicable diseases, promoting healthy lifestyles and support to modernization of the health system in Belarus 2016–2019”. The Government of the Russian Federation provided additional financial support within the context of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.