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How our modern lifestyle affects public health

Quality of life and life expectancy have progressed innumerably over the past 150 years with the onslaught of improved hygiene and sanitation practices, modern medicine, and technology. Due to these advances, whereas a century ago the main causes of death were communicable (infectious) diseases, the majority of deaths today, globally, can be attributed to non-communicable (noninfectious) diseases such as: obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. Such non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also classified as lifestyle diseases and are on the rise in both developed and developing nations. As suggested by their name, lifestyle diseases are linked to modifiable daily habits, behaviors, and practices - from diet to daily activity levels to chronic stress to alcohol and tobacco consumption. An improved quality of life over the past century for much of the world population can be attributed to massive economic growth and industrialization in a relatively short period of time. Such economic growth and industrialization have been the perfect catalyst for the widespread adoption of unhealthy daily habits and practices, namely: poor eating habits due to the globalization of the Western diet, less exercise due to a lesser need for physical labor, and increased alcohol and tobacco consumption due to more disposable income and leisure time (Ehlers & Kaufmann, 2010).

Perhaps the largest contributor to ill health from today’s lifestyle is chronic inactivity. A 2012 research study reveals that children today expend 400% less energy than did children just 40 years ago, and they are 40% less active than children 30 years ago (Mavrovouniotis, 2012). This dramatic decline in activity stems from children spending free time engaged in sedentary behaviors such as watching television and playing video games (Mavrovouniotis, 2012). As habits tend to be established in childhood, lack of activity in childhood leads to heightened risk of morbidity from lifestyle diseases in adulthood because the habit of engaging in daily activity is non-existent. Furthermore, many of the chronic lifestyle diseases diagnosed in adulthood are initiated in childhood (Bouziotas et al., 2004). In fact, approximately 40% of children aged 5-8 presented increased risk for obesity and heart disease (Mavrovouniotis, 2012). Interestingly, a cyclical phenomenon occurs when inactivity leads to obesity from increased fat levels. Obesity is caused by inactivity but also hinders physical activity (Ching et al., 1996). As obesity is a risk factor for most lifestyle diseases, long-term inactivity (a cause of obesity) is, thereby, also a risk factor for most lifestyle diseases (Senapati et al., 2015).

Four factors (maintaining a healthy weight, regularly exercising, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking) are associated with an 80% reduction in the risk of developing the most common lifestyle diseases (World Health Organization, 2002). Furthermore, reduction of stress is paramount, as stress increases risk of developing lifestyle diseases both directly and indirectly (Seib et al., 2014). Stress is associated with, essentially, all lifestyle diseases, which is unfortunate considering the rise of chronic stress within the population, especially in low-income, minority populations (Gyamfi et al., 2001). A constant state of stress results in a constant release of the hormone cortisol, which is associated with heightened risk of type 2 diabetes due to increased blood sugar levels (Lloyd et al., 2005). More intuitively, stress is associated with cardiovascular diseases by increasing blood pressure levels. Indirectly, stress can cause lifestyle disorders by inducing poor lifestyle behaviors such as unhealthy eating and excessive alcohol consumption (Seib et al., 2014). Thus, minimizing stress can go a long way in reducing risk of developing many lifestyle disorders (Balwan & Kour, 2021).

It is important to note, however, that individuals making changes to their own modifiable habits is not enough to decrease the steady rise in lifestyle diseases. It will be necessary to address the root cause of these behaviors systemically, on a wide scale. For one, because healthy habits are developed in childhood, it is necessary to increase education on the importance of physical activity in school settings. This education must be extended to children’s parents and guardians, who are better able to enact change in their children’s lifestyles. Furthermore, action must be taken at multiple levels within the healthcare system, but also, crucially, at the government level. Within the healthcare system, it is crucial to strive for early detection, screening, and treatment of NCDs (Balwan & Kour, 2021). Simply setting goals to reduce lifestyle diseases is not enough; it is important to follow-up with regular reporting on the issue, as well as global monitoring and accountability (Balwan & Kour, 2021). As our current work climate fosters an extreme sedentary lifestyle, offering gym memberships via workplace healthcare benefits may be a prudent step to proactively reduce healthcare costs from lifestyle diseases in the future. If for no other reason, reducing the incidence and prevalence of lifestyle diseases will dramatically lower global healthcare costs due to how costly these diseases are to treat. Prevention of these ailments today will be far less costly than treating millions of people years from now.


Balwan, W., & Kour, S. (2021). Lifestyle diseases: The link between modern lifestyle and threat to public health. Saudi Journal of Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 7(4), 179–184.

Bouziotas, C., Koutedakis, Y., Nevill, A., Ageli, E., Tsigilis, N., Nikolaou, A., & Nakou, A. (2004). Greek adolescents, fitness, fatness, fat intake, activity, and coronary heart disease risk. Arch. Dis. Child, 89, 41-44.

Ching, P. L., Willett, W. C., Rim, E. B., Colditz, G. A., Gortmaker, S. L., & Stampfer, M. J. (1996). Activity level and risk of overweight in male health professionals. American Journal of Public Health, 86, 25-30.

Ehlers, S., & Kaufmann, S. H. E. (2010). Infection, inflammation, and chronic diseases: Consequences of a modern lifestyle. Trends in Immunology, 31(5), 184–190.

Gyamfi, P., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Jackson, A. P. (2001). Associations between employment and financial and parental stress in low-income single Black Mothers. Women & Health, 32(1-2), 119–135.

Lloyd, C., Smith, J., Weinger, K. (2005). Stress and Diabetes: A Review of the Links. Diabetes Spectrum 1, 18 (2): 121–127.

Mavrovouniotis, F. (2012). Inactivity in childhood and adolescence: A modern lifestyle associated with adverse health consequences. Sport Science Review, 21(3-4), 75–99.

Seib, C., Whiteside, E., Lee, K., Humphreys, J., Dao Tran, T. H., Chopin, L., & Anderson, D. (2014). Stress, lifestyle, and quality of life in midlife and older Australian women: Results from the stress and the health of women study. Women's Health Issues, 24(1).

Senapati, S., Bharti, N., Bhattacharya, A. (2015). Modern Lifestyle Disease: Chronic Diseases, Awareness and Prevention. International Journal of Current Research and Academic Review, 3(7), 215-223

World Health Organization. (2002). The World Health Report 2002: Reducing risks, promoting healthy life, Geneva.



Author: Aseelah Saiyed

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Aseelah Saiyed


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