A life course approach can reduce the risk of developing NCDs and promote healthy ageing in our community.
An ageing population is one of the great success stories of public health. However, the rising number of non-communicable disease (NCDs) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer among older people reduces their quality of life.
Evidence shows that more than 15 million of all deaths attributed to NCDs occur between the ages of 30 and 69 years. Healthy ageing must start much earlier, before one becomes an older adult.
The million-dollar question is how do we reduce the rising burden of NCDs among older adults in a holistic manner? Where and when do we start?
The answers to these questions would be the life course approach, where the prevention of NCDs begins from the mother’s womb itself.
Here are some examples on how personalised womb to tomb care can help to reduce NCDs among older adults.
Firstly, during pregnancy, mothers should go for regular antenatal check-ups. Studies have shown that impaired fetal growth (due to maternal underweight and nutritional deficiency and preterm babies) is associated with the maternal risks of heart attack, diabetes and hypertension at the later stages of life.
Children born of diabetic mothers are more likely to develop diabetes. Regular screenings during antenatal follow-ups can detect and prevent early complications such hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy.
A pregnant mother’s diet needs to be modified to accommodate the nutritional needs of the baby. During antenatal appointments, baby’s growth will be monitored, and any growth retardation can be detected earlier, and action can be taken.
Secondly, from the infant period to the school-going stage, breastfeeding is encouraged. Formula milk consumption is related to higher cardiovascular risks.
Growth retardation during childhood also appears to be a risk factor for chronic disease during adulthood. Childhood obesity is a risk factor for NCDs during the later stages of life.
Many unhealthy behaviours that underlie NCDs start during childhood and adolescence. Schoolchildren should be educated to adopt healthy diets.
Physical activity, taking proper nutrition, and avoidance of substance abuse should be practised during their schooldays. Education on adopting healthy lifestyles must be included in school syllabuses. Effective self-management behaviours should be encouraged since childhood.
Thirdly, during midlife and adulthood, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking and excessive use of alcohol are common risk factors of NCDs.
During this stage, NCDs tend to manifest. Maintaining healthy weights, reducing dietary salts, unhealthy fats, sugars, and increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in daily diets are essential at this stage.
One has to avoid excessive use of alcohol and stop smoking. We can start to be physically active just by practising brisk walking. At least 15 to 20 minutes of brisk walking every day is very beneficial to our health.
In the end, it’s the quality and not the quantity of life that matters. Changes in physical as well as cognitive functions are common in normal ageing.
Therefore, it is important to find activities that interest you and can enhance your well-being. Keep interested and stay involved in social activities. Enjoy the company of others, since this helps to maintain cognitive capabilities.
In conclusion, a life course approach can reduce the risk of developing NCDs and promote healthy ageing in our community. Let us aspire to healthy lives from womb to tomb for a better future.
The article was written by Dr Nithiya Sinarajoo (Doctor of Public Health candidate), Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi and Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming. It was first published on SinChew and CodeBlue websites.