a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

Healthy Caribbean Coalition - 10 myths and misunderstandings about Chronic Diseases

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  • Myth: Chronic diseases mainly affect high income countries
    Reality: Four out of five chronic disease deaths are in low and middle income countries
  • Myth: Low and middle income counties should control infectious diseases before chronic diseases
    Reality: Low and middle income countries are at the centre of both old and new public health challenges
  • Myth: Chronic diseases mainly affect rich people
    Reality: In all but the least developed countries of the world, poor people are much more likely than the wealthy to develop chronic diseases, and everywhere are more likely to die as a result
  • Myth: Chronic diseases mainly affect old people
    Reality: Almost half of chronic diseases deaths occur prematurely, in people under 70 years of age. One quarter of all chronic disease deaths occur in people under 60 years of age
  • Myth: Chronic diseases affect primarily men
    Reality: Chronic diseases, including heart disease, affect men and women almost equally
  • Myth: Many people believe that if individuals develop chronic disease as a result of unhealthy “lifestyles’, they have no one to blame but themselves Reality: Individual responsibility can have its full effect only where individuals have equitable access to a healthy life, and are supported to make healthy choices
  • Myth: Chronic disease cannot be prevented
    Reality: The major causes of chronic diseases are known, and if the risk factors were eliminated, at least 80% of all heart disease, stroke and ‘type 2’ diabetes would be prevented; over 40% of cancer would be prevented
  • Myth: Chronic disease prevention and control is too expensive
    Reality: A full range of chronic disease interventions are very cost-effective for all regions of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these solutions are also inexpensive to implement
  • Misunderstanding: “My grandfather smoked and was overweight – and he lived to 96”.
    Reality: in any population there will be a certain number of people who do not demonstrate the typical patterns seen in the vast majority. These people undeniably exist, but they are rare. The vast majority of chronic disease can be traced back to the common risk factors, and can be prevented by eliminating these risks.
  • Misunderstanding: “ Everyone has to die of something”
    Reality: This is correct but death does not need to be slow, painful, or premature. Most chronic diseases result in people becoming progressively ill and debilitated, especially if their illness is not managed correctly. A life of protracted ill-health is not inevitable. Chronic disease prevention and control helps people to live longer and healthier lives.

Source: Adapted from Preventing chronic diseases – a vital investment, Overview, WHO global report, WHO 2005. A useful website for further information is www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/en/

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