Lifestyle diseases are those conditions usually attributed to dramatic shifts in the way humans live their lives, often due to advancements in a society or its scientific progress. As the 1900s reached its midpoint in societies like the US, many horrendous diseases were eradicated or nearly eliminated through changes in medical science. Vaccines prevented terrible illnesses that could claim the lives of children, and many bacterial illnesses, which had formerly been fatal, became treatable with antibiotics. However, changes in living, while they eliminated certain forms of disease, brought in others, including these so-called lifestyle diseases.
Most of these illnesses can be classed as caused by the way humans behave, though there are some exceptions. Primarily, conditions like certain forms of cancer, most types of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes are “contracted” from the way people live. Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and excess alcohol, and in the late 2000s even poor sleep may contribute to these illnesses or be their primary cause. Medical historians don’t have to look far back in the history of the US to see quite dramatic shifts in things like diet in the 1950s, and clearly advancements like the invention of the motor vehicle changed the exercise profile of most people.
There are great concerns in developing countries about these diseases, which are emerging with greater frequency. India devotes numerous articles in their publications to this topic, since some of its residents are now enjoying prosperity and are at greater risk for these diseases. Any country that becomes “developed” tends to move beyond the point where communicable disease, except HIV/AIDs and most other sexually transmitted illnesses, are the biggest problem. Once a certain level of prosperity sets in, especially if life is lived similar to the way Westerners live it, lifestyle diseases become more common.
Some of these diseases aren’t really due to behavior, but are instead due to longevity. Conditions like enlarged prostate or prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease mostly occur in people of a certain age. By increasing longevity, people are more likely to develop diseases that usually affect the elderly. With more people living longer, incidence of these kinds of diseases grows. These diseases may not be attributable to behavior in early life, but instead simply become consequences of surviving to a certain age.
However, most of the time, lifestyle diseases do refer to those conditions that could be prevented if behavior was changed. There is some evidence to suggest that some diseases have decreased when enough education occurs. For instance, smoking rates have gone down due to vigorous anti-smoking campaigns and higher taxation on tobacco, and this will likely reduce some forms of heart disease and lung cancer. Currently, countries like the US are attempting similar campaigns to reduce obesity, particularly childhood obesity, which is a growing epidemic and can lead to many other types of lifestyle disease.