New AstraZeneca-commissioned research from the Economist Intelligence Unit highlights need to focus on adolescents to prevent non-communicable diseases

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has released new research that highlights the need for an increased focus on adolescents as a way to address the growing global burden of non-communicable disease.  We commissioned this research as part of our Sustainability focus on disease prevention and the work we do through our Young Health Programme.

The EIU research, Addressing non-communicable diseases in adolescence, assesses how ten representative countries of different income levels are addressing the challenges associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among adolescents.  It is based on an NCD scorecard evaluating national efforts in policy, awareness and implementation, with a focus on four risk factors/health areas: healthy diets, nutrition and physical exercise; alcohol and tobacco; sexual and reproductive health; and mental health. The research summarizes several critical findings:

  • Political will is half the battle:  Low- and middle-income countries can do well at addressing the risk factors for NCDs, despite their lack of financial resources.
  • NCDs are influenced many factors:  Addressing NCD risk factors for young people will require governments to look at the entire environment that a young person lives in.
  • Multi-sector approaches to NCDs work best:  Efforts to confront NCDs in the adolescent population are most effective when they are embedded in a broad-based public health programme.
  • Policymaking should include young people: Young people need to have a seat at the policy table, and to be actively involved in establishing programmes and campaigns that will be directed at their peers.

The argument for focusing attention on young people when it comes to addressing the burden of NCDs is strong.  Globally, 41 million people die from NCDs per year; 15 million of these deaths are premature which means that they occur between the ages of 30 and 701. Around 70% of these premature deaths are associated with behaviours that began in childhood2. Considering this evidence, it has been suggested that a sustained focus on interventions with the 10-24 age group delivers a “triple dividend”: benefitting young people during their adolescent years; setting them up to have healthier adult lives; and increasing the likelihood that their children – our future generations – will be healthier.

“Disease prevention is an important part of our Sustainability work at AstraZeneca,” said Katarina Ageborg, EVP, Sustainability. “Addressing the global burden of NCDs needs an approach that considers many factors around health , including educating young people around adopting good behaviours that can set them up for a healthy future.  We are excited about this new EIU research and hope it will galvanize discussion around NCD prevention, and importantly raise the profile of young people within that discussion.”

Healthcare experts interviewed by the EIU agree that change is needed.  As Dr. Sania Nishtar co-chair of the World Health Organisation (WHO) High-Level Global Commission on NCDs, and Founder of Heartfile, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) based in Pakistan comments at the beginning of the report, “the biggest NCD challenge is that it has not been on the agenda at all.”

“Since 2010, we’ve made young people and NCD prevention the focus of our work to address critical global health issues and support the sustainable growth and development of health systems,” said Richard Buckley, Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs.  “Through our Young Health Programme  we invest in programming, research and advocacy and to date, have directly reached more than three million young people across 24 countries and six continents.”

The EIU research joins a compendium of research and policy reports that have been supported by AstraZeneca in connection with its Young Health Programme.

References

1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases

2. Kuruvilla S, Sadana R, Villar Montesinos E, Beard J, et al. A life-course approach to health: synergy with sustainable development goals. World Health Organization Bulletin 2018;96:42–50