Reducing the burden of noncommunicable disease requires action at all stages of life

A WHO paper published in the BMJ outlines how a life-course approach can be used to inform implementation of noncommunicable disease (NCD) prevention and control. The authors consider life stages from preconception to old age, and ways in which transitions in stages of life present opportunities for promoting health.

Many of the health problems we encounter in adulthood stem from our experiences early in life – in some cases, even from before we are born. The major NCDs (diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders) are often associated with older age groups, but the evidence suggests that they affect people of all ages. Fifteen million deaths per year attributed to NCDs occur among people aged 30–69 years, and people from all age groups are vulnerable to the risk factors that contribute to NCDs.

The life-course approach is an intuitive way to conceptualize NCD prevention and control. It provides a comprehensive and sustainable framework to introduce key interventions for improved health literacy and knowledge translation. Additionally, it provides an avenue for adopting a complex systems model of public health. This article outlines how a life-course approach can be used to inform implementation of NCD prevention and control. The paper draws primarily on work from the WHO European Region, which made the life-course approach a major part of Health 2020 and the regional framework for prevention and control of NCDs.