Published on Oct 16, 2019

This issue brief provides policy makers with information on how UNDP is responding to the challenge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The brief was developed as part of a broader set of UN agency briefs on NCDs, for the WHO-led UN Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

NCDs, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease, are a major source of preventable illness, disability and mortality worldwide. NCDs place a significant burden on health systems, presenting a challenge to universal health coverage and other development aims. The Sustainable Development Goals include a specific target (3.4) to reduce premature mortality from NCDs. Shared gains across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are possible given the relationship between NCDs and poverty and inequality reduction, economic growth, climate action and financing for development.

In line with the ‘Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All’, UNDP, in cooperation with WHO, the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the broader UN Inter-Agency Task Force on NCDs and other partners, supports governments to implement or strengthen whole-of-government NCD responses. UNDP’s work on NCDs promotes effective and inclusive governance for health, and aligns with its ‘Strategic Plan 2018-2021’ and HIV, Health and Development Strategy 2016-2021: Connecting the Dots, which recognize the relationship between health, poverty eradication and other development aims.

Many NCDs have their origins in early life

NCDs undermine children and adolescents’ right to health, nutrition, education and play. Each year, about 1.2 million children and adolescents aged under 20 die from often treatable NCDs such as chronic respiratory diseases and cancers, accounting for 13% of overall NCD mortality. NCD risk factors, e.g. childhood overweight and obesity, have a negative impact on children’s mental and emotional well-being, peer relations, learning and opportunities to participate in education and recreation.

Exposure to NCD risk factors is often established very early in life. Prenatal maternal undernutrition and/or low birthweight predispose an individual to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes later in life. Maternal obesity and gestational diabetes are associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in both mother and child.

Childhood and adolescence are also periods when behaviours which lead to the onset of NCDs are adopted including tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity as well as unsafe sex (which can result in the spread of HPV, a cause of cervical cancer). These behaviours contribute to an estimated 70% of premature deaths in adulthood.

Children and adolescents are often targeted by companies producing, marketing and/ or selling unhealthy products (e.g. tobacco, alcohol and foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt). Many children and adolescents also grow up in built environments that are not conducive to healthy behaviours (e.g. urban areas that combine limited opportunities for physical activity, exposure to unsafe roads and high levels of air pollution).

United Nations high-level meetings have highlighted the need for UN agencies, including UNICEF, to scale up their work on NCDs as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

NCDs account for 14.6% of all-cause mortality and 24.8% of disability-affected life years (DALYs) amongst children and adolescents.

Exposure to NCD risk factors may begin before or during pregnancy and continue during infancy and childhood and adolescence, underlining the importance of action across these age groups

Childhood and adolescence are periods where signi cant impact can be made in risk reduction through evidence-based interventions on diet, physical activity, tobacco and alcohol consumption

Addressing NCDs requires coordinated action from all UN agencies within a broader whole-of- society response. 

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