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Rethinking the terms non-communicable disease and chronic disease
  1. M Ackland1,
  2. B C K Choi2,
  3. P Puska2
  1. 1Health Surveillance and Evaluation Section, Department of Human Services, Level 18, 120 Spencer Street, Melbourne 3000, Australia
  2. 2Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Ackland;

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Diseases are frequently referred to as communicable or non-communicable. Communicable diseases comprise infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and measles, while non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are mostly chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes.

Epidemics of communicable diseases follow predictable patterns, spreading across vulnerable population sectors by disease carrying agents or vectors. That leads to the term communicable. But recently many people have challenged the use of the term non-communicable and said that these diseases are actually also communicable.

How can chronic non-infectious diseases like cardiovascular diseases be communicable? The answer lies in the causation of chronic diseases. Health risk behaviours such as smoking, unbalanced nutrition, physical inactivity, and excess alcohol use are directly implicated as causal factors for chronic diseases— but the determinants of these risk taking behaviours are too frequently overlooked. These determinants should be considered as vectors for disease that are underpinned by the psycho-social, cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic …

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