The consequences

The consequences of the NCD epidemic are profound and far-reaching. Consider this: in low and middle income countries (LMICs) it is often men and women in their most productive years (40s and 50s) who are most affected. On a personal level this is a tragedy for a family struggling for survival. At a society level this lost productivity further compounds the challenges of economic growth. Family income otherwise spent on housing and child education is instead spent on health care and treatment. For these reasons NCDs can contribute to poverty, trapping poor households in a cycle of debt and illness, and further increasing economic and social inequality.

Non-communicable diseases are both a consequence of poverty and contributor to poverty. Several factors make poor people more likely to develop and die from NCDs including:

  • A higher prevalence of low birth weight which increases risk of diabetes and obesity
  • Increased environmental exposures such as air pollution from solid cooking fuels
  • Limited access to healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables due to cost and availability
  • Limited access to treatment and health services due to the costs involved.

At the household level, NCDs significantly increase the risk of poverty. In India, households spend up to 25% of income treating diabetes (Geneau, Stuckler et al. 2010) while an estimated 40% of households where a member suffers from a non-communicable disease are pushed into poverty (Mahal A, Karan A et al. 2010). In situations where the family breadwinner becomes ill, women and girls are more likely to be taken out of education, affecting their life chances and the life chances of any children that they then have.

NCDs also kill significantly more people under 60 years, who are of working age, in LMICs (40% of NCD deaths) compared to high income countries (20% of NCD deaths) (WHO 2008; WHO 2008). The social and economic impacts of NCDs at the household, community and national level are devastating, and failure to address them will hamper the achievement of the Millennium Development goals (MDGs) (Geneau, Stuckler et al. 2010).


Geneau, R., D. Stuckler, et al. (2010). "Raising the priority of preventing chronic diseases: a political process." The Lancet 376(9753): 1689-1698.

Mahal A, Karan A, et al. (2010). The economic implications of non-communicable disease for India. Washington, World Bank.

WHO (2008). The global burden of disease: 2004 update, World Health Organisation.

World Health, O. (2008). "2008-2013 action plan for the global strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases." from

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