Common Childhood NCDs
To learn more about NCDs in children, adolescents, and young people, access NCD Child’s first global disease burden publication, Children & Non-communicable Disease: Global Burden Report 2019.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are disorders of the heart and blood vessels, that can be congenital or acquired. In 2016, CVDs were attributed to 17.9 million deaths; more than 3 out of 4 these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Children can also be affected by CVDs – in 2017, more than 13.9 million children had some form of CVD. Heart disease in children include, but are not limited to, congenital heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, and pediatric stroke. Of the one million children born each year with a heart defect, 90% live in areas where appropriate medical care is absent or insufficient.
Childhood and adolescence are critical opportunities for the prevention of CVD. Unhealthy lifestyle factors, adopted at a young age, are a leading cause of the development of preventable CVDs in later life. Approaches to the prevention and management of CVDs must proactively address the individual- and population-level risk factors that underlie the progressive loss of cardiovascular health, leading to a substantial risk of CVD outcomes in adulthood.
For additional resources on childhood CVD prevention and management, please visit:
Each year, 300,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in children under 20 years old. Pediatric cancer continues to be a leading cause of death in children and adolescents; however, survival rates vary significantly. In high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer are cured; the number drops to 20% in LMIC. Lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, obstacles to accessing care, abandonment of treatment, and death from toxicity factor into these low survival rates. The most common categories of childhood cancers are leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and solid tumors, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumors; most cannot be prevented or screened. The causes of pediatric cancer are often unknown and prevention efforts should focus on risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing cancer as an adult.
Improving outcomes for children requires early and accurate diagnosis, access to effective treatment, and palliative care. This includes access to quality, age-appropriate formularies of essential medicines. Improved surveillance of cancer data through pediatric registries are needed to fully grasp the burden of disease in children.
For additional resources on childhood cancer, please visit:
Chronic Respiratory Diseases
Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) are diseases of the airways and other structures that include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea and occupational lung diseases. Asthma is the most common condition that affects children and adults alike and though it affects people at all levels of development, it’s disproportionately fatal in LMICs. It’s estimated that 235 million people currently suffer from asthma. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another common CRD that affects more than 3 million people worldwide. Risk factors for most CRDs include tobacco smoke, air pollution, occupational chemicals, dusts, and frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood. Childhood and adult CRD is closely linked. Early childhood respiratory infection, asthma or environmental exposures may lead to chronic disease in adulthood.
CRD prevention requires action at various levels. Primary prevention can reduce levels of exposure to common risk factors including tobacco, environmental air pollution, and poor nutrition. Secondary prevention involves strengthening health care services for people suffering with CRDs including access to care, treatment, and specialty care. Tertiary prevention requires strengthening surveillance systems and to advocate the integration of prevention and control of CRDs into policies across all government departments.
For additional resources on chronic respiratory diseases, please visit: WHO and the Global Alliance against Respiratory Diseases
The frequency of diabetes is rising around the world, and studies are showing young people are at increasing risk of developing the disease. Since 1980, the number of adults with diabetes worldwide has increased from 108 million to 422 million in 2014.
Type 1 diabetes, traditionally called childhood-onset diabetes, occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. A combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to cause the majority of Type 1 diabetes cases. At present, Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Type 2 diabetes is increasing exponentially and developing at a younger age, including in adolescence and childhood. The most prevalent risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is obesity. Lifestyle modification programs for young people are crucial for the prevention of diabetes and a number of other medical complications and conditions associated with childhood obesity. Strategies for the prevention of Type 2 diabetes include healthy eating and increased physical activity. Cost-effective medicines and equipment to diagnose and manage diabetes are available, safe and highly effective, but remain inaccessible and unaffordable to many people in LMICs.
For additional resources on diabetes, please visit: International Diabetes Federation
Mental disorders include anxiety disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism Spectrum disorder, behavior disorders, conduct disorder, mood disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse.. They also include intellectual disabilities and neurological disorders such as epilepsy and dementia. Approaches to the prevention and treatment of mental disorders are heavily influenced by context and vary across countries and cultures.
It’s estimated that 10-20% of young people experience mental disorders. Untreated mental disorders can severely influence young people’s development, their educational attainments and their quality of life. Young people with mental disorders also contribute to an increased prevalence of disability and are faced with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities.
For additional resources on mental health in young people, please visit: WHO
Adolescent sexual and reproductive health
Sexual initiation and sexual activity vary widely by region, country, and gender. However, in all regions young people are reaching puberty earlier, often engaging in sexual activity at a younger age. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, HIV transmission, unplanned pregnancies, and sexual abuse.
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be easily cured with antibiotics when caught early but others have no known cure. Left untreated, some STIs can lead to infertility, pregnancy complications, organ damage, and even death.
Adolescent pregnancies increasingly lead to a number of complications for the mother including anemia, malaria, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, postpartum hemorrhage and mental disorders, such as depression. Stillbirths and sudden infant death syndrome are also more common among babies born to adolescent mothers.
Many young people face barriers to reproductive health information and family planning services. Even where they exist, a large proportion of reproductive health services fail to provide age-appropriate, non-judgmental and full range supportive care to adolescents. Many societies openly disapprove adolescent sexual activity due to embedded cultural and religious factors and beliefs. Support for adolescent sexual and reproductive health must include comprehensive sexuality education; services to prevent, diagnose and treat STIs; and counseling on family planning.
For additional resources on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, please visit: United Nations Population Fund
Injury prevention and violence
Injury and violence are a significant cause of childhood morbidity, mortality and disability. An estimated 900,000 young people die every year as a result of injuries and violence. The burden of violence and injury is greatest in low-income countries and communities. Overall, more than 95% of all injury deaths in young people occur in low-income and middle-income countries.
Every year, there are an estimated 41,000 homicide deaths in children under 15 years of age. This number underestimates the true extent of the problem, as a significant proportion of child maltreatment deaths are incorrectly attributed to falls, burns, drowning, and other unintentional accidents. Adverse childhood events are also associated with significantly increased risk of substance abuse, depression, suicide attempt, smoking and sexually transmitted disease.
Injury and violence prevention requires a wide range of approaches, including implementing and enforcing safety legislation and standards, promoting home and transport safety, modifying products or the environment, improving family support services and improving care and rehabilitation of injured young people.
For additional resources on injury and violence prevention, please visit: UNICEF and WHO
According to the World Report on Disability approximately one billion people in the world are living with a disability, with at least 1 in 10 being young people and 80% living in developing countries. young people with disabilities are one of the most marginalized, discriminated and excluded groups of young people. It’s estimated that between 93 million and 150 million young people live with disabilities though globally, very few countries collect reliable information on the number of young people with disabilities, the types of disabilities present or how these disabilities impact the lives of those affected.
The global increase in NCDs is having a profound effect on disability trends with the four most prevalent NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases – estimated to account for about two thirds of all years lived with disability in LMICs. While young people may experience impairment as a result of an NCD, it is not the cause of, nor does it justify disability. Instead, disability is the result of an interaction between a person with impairment, for example, paralysis or a hearing impairment, and the attitudinal and environmental barriers that impede their full participation in society on an equal basis with others, for example, attending school. Communities and governments must reduce these barriers to ensure that young people with impairments caused by NCDs are able to fully participate in all aspects of society to the best of their capacity.
For additional resources on disability and young people, please visit: UNICEF