Preventing Noncomunicable Diseases

Begin in Childhood to Prevent Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)

Even during the international COVID-19 pandemic, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and the cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of illness and death in the U.S. Surprisingly, the damage that leads to these diseases begins in childhood. 

Health depends on choices, habits, and a person’s environment, social setting, and access to health care. Among these factors, the prevention of NCDs is highly influenced by lifestyle choices throughout the life course. Healthy behavior could eliminate 90% of the diabetes, 80% of the coronary heart disease, and nearly half of the cancers that afflict Americans. 

Beginning at young ages, most children have an unhealthy lifestyle. They are under-exercised and overfed on a high-saturated fat, high-sugar, high-salt, processed-food diet. This leads to unhealthy conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity that make it likely that eventually they will suffer major illnesses, face long periods of disability, and die prematurely.

Too many caregivers, children, teenagers, and young adults in the U.S., are unaware that their health habits are unhealthy. Diets based on processed and fast food, lack of physical activity, childhood obesity, inadequate sleep, vaping, use of marijuana, and other high-risk behaviors are common. 

Multiple factors are at work to make us sick or keep us healthy. Heart disease and stroke are made more likely by unhealthy nutrition, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and sedentary physical activity habits. Adoption of a lifestyle to address these factors is needed. Cancers are made more likely by smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, physical inactivity, and environmental hazards. Adoption of a lifestyle to address these factors is needed.

The principles of healthy living are not complicated or difficult to learn. Children and adults should maintain a normal weight; adopt a diet low in added sugar and saturated fat, and high in natural unrefined whole plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, and wholegrains); get enough sleep and physical activity; manage stress; avoid high-risk behaviors like misuse of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; and guard against infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and influenza with vaccinations and other preventive measures.

A new book by the University of California, San Francisco medical school professor emeritus J. Joseph Speidel MD, MPH, provides guidance to the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. The 600-page book The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Wellness with a Lifestyle Checklist is based on more than 2000 scientific articles from the medical literature. It is available from Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Building-Blocks-Health-Lifestyle-Checklist-ebook/dp/B08RC3XRCY/.

Additional information and a blog based on the book are available at: https://jjspeidel.com/.

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