Diseases of affluence

Diseases of affluence

Diseases of affluence is a term sometimes given to selected diseases and other health conditions which are commonly thought to be a result of increasing wealth in a society.[1] Also referred to as the "Western disease” paradigm, these diseases are in contrast to so-called "diseases of poverty", which largely result from and contribute to human impoverishment.



Examples of diseases of affluence include mostly chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and other physical health conditions for which personal lifestyles and societal conditions associated with economic development are believed to be an important risk factor - such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, hypertension, cancer, asthma, alcoholism, gout and some types of allergies.[1][2][3] They may also be considered to include depression and other mental health conditions associated with increased social isolation and lower levels of psychological well being observed in many developed countries.[4][5] Many of these conditions are interrelated, for example obesity is thought to be a partial cause of many other illnesses.

In contrast, the diseases of poverty tend to be largely infectious diseases, often related to poor hygiene, low vaccination coverage, inadequate public health safety or weak enforcement of environmental health regulations.

Despite the term, the so-called "diseases of affluence" are predicted to become more prevalent in developing countries, as diseases of poverty decline, longevity increases and lifestyles change.[1][2] In 2008, nearly 80% of deaths due to NCDs - including heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes - occurred in low- and middle-income countries.[6]

Causes and risk factors

Factors associated with the increase of these conditions and illnesses appear to be, paradoxically, things which many people would regard as improvements in their lives.[citation needed] They include:

  • Less strenuous physical exercise, often through increased use of motor vehicles
  • Irregular exercise as a result of jobs such as those in the office involving no physical implications
  • Easy accessibility in society to large amounts of low-cost food (relative to the much-lower caloric food availability in a subsistence economy)
    • More food generally, with much less physical exertion expended to obtain a moderate amount of food
    • More high fat and high sugar foods in the diet are common in the affluent developed economies of the late-twentieth century
    • Higher consumption of meat and dairy products
    • Higher consumption of refined flours and products made of such, like white bread or white noodles
    • More foods which are processed, cooked, and commercially provided (rather than seasonal, fresh foods prepared locally at time of eating)[7]
  • Prolonged periods of inactivity
  • Greater use of alcohol and tobacco
  • Longer life-spans
    • Reduced exposure to infectious agents throughout life

See also


  1. ^ a b c Ezzati M et al. "Rethinking the “Diseases of Affluence” Paradigm: Global Patterns of Nutritional Risks in Relation to Economic Development." PLoS Med 2(5): e133. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020133
  2. ^ a b World Health Organization. Rethinking "diseases of affluence." Geneva.
  3. ^ Patterson K. "Diseases of Affluence." Maisonneuve, November 15, 2010.
  4. ^ Luthar SS. "The culture of affluence: psychological costs of material wealth." Child Dev 2003 Nov-Dec;74(6):1581-93.
  5. ^ Hamilton C. Diseases of affluence and other paradoxes. The Australian Financial Review, Friday 15 October, 2004.
  6. ^ World Health Organization. New WHO report: deaths from noncommunicable diseases on the rise, with developing world hit hardest. Geneva, 27 April 2011.
  7. ^ Boseley, Sarah (2004-12-31). "15-Year Study Links Fast Food To Obesity". The Guardian (London). http://society.guardian.co.uk/publichealth/story/0,11098,1381205,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 

Further reading

  • Trowell HC, Burkitt DP. Western Diseases: Their Emergence and Prevention. Harvard University Press.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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