Chronic diseases are diseases which last a long time, or are permanent or progressive in nature.
Chronic disease is now the number one cause of death worldwide and is responsible for 63 percent of the world’s deaths.
In 2008 there were 36 million people who died of chronic disease.(1)
What Types of Chronic Disease are there?
Chronic diseases include things like:
• Obesity-related illness
• Cardiovascular disease
• Autoimmune diseases
• Seizure disorders
In the United States, 43 percent of American children have at least 1 of 20 chronic health problems. This increases to 54.1 percent when you include the children who are also obese, overweight or who have developmental delays.
The number of American children with developmental disabilities was reported to be one in six children between the years of 2006-2008, based upon National Health Interview Surveys.(2)
The number of people with chronic diseases are increasing.
For instance, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health wrote that the death rate from asthma had always been stable until the 1960s when mortality suddenly became higher than at any point in the previous hundred years.
In the U.K., the prevalence of asthma has increased two- to three-fold between 1955-2004.(4)
Doctor consultations for hay fever have risen by 260 percent between 1971-1991. Consultations about eczema also rose by 150 percent in the same time period.
Hospital admissions for anaphylaxis have increased by 700 percent, food allergy admissions by 500 percent, urticaria (hives) admissions by 100 percent, and angioedema (swelling of the deeper skin tissues) by 40 percent.
In addition, doctor’s prescriptions for all allergies have increased since 1991. (5)
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that in some countries, cancer deaths make up a quarter of all deaths and they warn that by 2020, cancer rates could increase by 50 percent, leading to an extra 15 million new cases.
What is Causing Chronic Disease?
Some possible causes are:
Environmental Pollution and Chemicals
There are around 30,000 chemicals in common use but less than 1 percent of these has been accessed for toxicology or studied for their effects on human health. Environmental pollutants are those in the air, water, soil, food and in the home or workplace. (7)
WHO said that a diet high in animal proteins and fats and refined carbohydrates can cause an imbalance of energy resulting in many diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cancer.
There is some evidence to suggest that it's trans fats that are the problem, rather than other fats.
Harvard School of Public Health said that a low fat, low cholesterol diet hasn’t controlled our weight or helped us to become healthier. In fact more people are obese, even though we typically take in less fat.(8)
Lack of fruit and vegetables has also been implicated in the development of cancer and other chronic ill health conditions.
Smoking and Second-hand Smoke
Smoking can cause heart disease, chronic bronchitis and lots of different cancers, to name just a few conditions. Cigarette smoke causes a 24 percent increased risk of lung cancer and a 25 percent increased risk of heart disease to a non-smoker who breathes in smoke.(9)
Children of smokers are more prone to asthma. In England and Wales, there are 17,000 under-five-year-olds hospitalized every year due to illnesses caused by parental smoking.(10)
If children are given antibiotics in the first year of life, this appears to increase their risk of developing childhood asthma, according to the medical journal Chest.
Scientists at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit said that babies given antibiotics are more likely to develop asthma and other allergies because antibiotics kill off good bacteria, and that doctors should be more prudent about prescribing them to babies under six months old.
Another study of Steiner school children (who typically have less vaccinations and antibiotics) found that they had a significantly reduced risk of rhinoconjunctivitis, eczema and atopic sensitization.
Use of antibiotics in the first year of life was also associated with an increased risk of asthma. Having had natural measles infection lowered the risk of having eczema.
The propensity towards allergic disease may be because we aren’t exposed to as many germs as in previous generations, so our immune systems cannot develop properly.
1. Chronic Diseases, World Health Organization. Web. 4 July 2012.
2. A national and state profile of leading health problems and health care quality for US children: key insurance disparities and across-state variations, Acad Pediatr. 2011 May-Jun;11(3 Suppl):S22-33.
3. Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997–2008, Pediatrics, 23rd May 2011.
4. Is Asthma Increasing? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 1987, 41, 185-189.
Full Text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1052617/?page=1
5. Time trends in allergic disorders in the UK, Thorax. 2007 Jan;62(1):91-6. Epub 2006 Sep 1.
6. Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020, World Health Organization. Web. 4 July 2012.
7. THE BURDEN OF DISEASE ATTRIBUTABLE TO ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION, Health Protection Agency. Web. 4 July 2012.
8. Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good, Harvard School of Public Health. Web. 4 July 2012.
9. What are the Health Risks of Smoking? NHS Choices. Web. 4 July 2012.
10. Smoking: The Facts, Patient UK. Web. 4 July 2012.
11. Does Antibiotic Exposure During Infancy Lead to Development of Asthma? Chest, March 2006 vol. 129 no. 3 610-618.
12. Antibiotics Link to Baby Asthma, BBC News. Web. 4 July 2012.
13. Allergic disease and sensitization in Steiner school children, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Jan;117(1):59-66. Epub 2005 Nov 28.
Reviewed July 4, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith