Publication: Promoting Healthy Living and Aging in Central America : Multi-sectoral Approaches to Prevent Chronic Noncommunicable Diseases

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Bonilla-Chacin, Maria Eugenia
Vásquez, Luis T. Marcano
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the main cause of death and disability in Central America. However, communicable diseases and maternal and child conditions remain important causes of death and disability as well as injuries. With the aging of the population and improvements in the control of infectious diseases, the share of NCDs in the total burden of disease is likely to increase. However, in Central America these diseases cause death at a much younger age than in higher-income countries. It is critical to prevent and control NCDs, both for their impact on health, as well as the economy. When not controlled, they can cause costly hospitalizations and large productivity losses due to absenteeism, disability and premature deaths. Finally, they can impoverish households hit by out-of-pocket payments for health services and drugs. A large share of NCDs can be prevented since they result from exposure to health risk factors such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and the harmful use of alcohol. Central Americans have very high caloric diets that are rich in sodium and refined sugars, and lifestyles that often involve low levels of physical activity. Similarly, large shares of youth in some of the countries smoke, while alcohol consumption among drinkers and the frequency of binge drinking in Nicaragua and Guatemala are very high. Although all countries in the region have introduced multi-sectoral interventions to prevent NCD risk factors, much remains to be done: for example, countries have been more successful controlling smoking than addressing physical inactivity, alcohol abuse and poor diets. The role of the health sector is central to preventing NCDs: It needs to ensure their surveillance, along with the risk factors. In addition, the sector needs to ensure that effective multi-sectoral efforts to prevent these conditions take place.
Bonilla-Chacin, Maria Eugenia; Vásquez, Luis T. Marcano. 2012. Promoting Healthy Living and Aging in Central America : Multi-sectoral Approaches to Prevent Chronic Noncommunicable Diseases. Health, Nutrition and Population (HNP) discussion paper;. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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