Noncommunicable diseases

A relatively small group of health conditions is responsible for a large part of the disease burden in Europe. Of the six WHO regions, the European Region is the most affected by noncommunicable diseases, and their growth is startling. The impact of the major noncommunicable diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders) is equally alarming: taken together, these five conditions account for an estimated 86% of the deaths and 77% of the disease burden in the Region.

Noncommunicable diseases are linked by common risk factors, underlying determinants and opportunities for intervention – high blood pressure, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, high blood cholesterol, overweight, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity - hugely increased by lifestyle and demographic changes.

The noncommunicable disease epidemic affects all countries, but low- and middle-income countries carry an additional burden as their health systems usually have fewer resources for the prevention and early detection of disease, as well as to provide comprehensive health care to those with diseases. Inequalities and the social determinants of health, including gender, play a role. People in the most disadvantaged groups are at greater risk not only because they have poorer access to health services, but also because they have fewer resources in terms of education, employment, housing, participation in civic society and control over their lives, to make healthy lifestyle choices.

WHO/Europe develops norms and standards, guidance and public health tools to help countries implement effective programmes and address risk factors.