Diseases of affluence

From ArticleWorld

Diseases of affluence, sometimes also called 'lifestyle diseases', are generally non-communicable and thought to result from increasing wealth and ease of life. They range from heart disease, allergies, and adult-onset diabetes to alcoholism, depression and possibly a number of psychiatric disorders.


Nutrition and exercise

There are a number of reasons why affluence brings ill-health. One of the most important is lack of exercise. People in tertiary sector jobs are desk-bound and commute long distances by car or public transport, rather than walk. Longer hours and longer distances to commute also mean less time to cook healthy food. Fast food or convenience food, the consumption of much more food than can be used , and less movement all set people up for obesity, high blood pressure, and general poor fitness. Obesity in particular is thought to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

Medical advances

There are other factors in making people susceptible to diseases of affluence. Less exposure to pathogens and agents of infection from infancy on, and greater reliance on medication and antibiotics leave people with lower natural immunity than is usual, while longer lifespans inevitably increase the rate of old-age diseases. The conditions are ideal for the development of allergies, autoimmune diseases and asthma, among others.

Social factors

Finally, more stress, longer work hours, and weakened social bonds resulting from independant housing, less leisure time and more car time, make alcohol, cigarettes and the like a common habit that often borders on substance abuse. Depression and other psychiatric disorders thrive, or are at least diagnosed more often.

Public health and sociological issues

Traditionally, diseases of affluence have been thought to be more prevalant in developed countries but in the last ten years there has been a spike in numbers for virtually all in fast-growing developing countries such as China and India. In addition, in many developed countries the incidence of diseaes of affluence like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and some cancers are ironically higher among the poorest section of society. Food is abundant and cheap, but of such poor quality as to have minimal nutrition.

Public health experts and sociologists now suggest that the reduced risk of diseases of poverty – communicable, water- and food-borne diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria, and infections – does not adequately compensate for the increased social cost as well as morbidity rates due to diseases of development or affluence. Others say the entire paradigm needs to be revisited, because of the medicalization of society and individuals' problems.