Non-communicable diseases

Behaviours that lead to disease often emerge during childhood and adolescence.

Girls in blue school uniforms play football in the grass.

Each year, non-communicable diseases claim 41 million lives: That’s about 70 per cent of all global deaths.

While non-communicable diseases tend to manifest in adulthood, many have their origins in behaviours adopted during childhood and adolescence. Risk factors for these diseases are often preventable: Appropriate health interventions before, during and after pregnancy, and through childhood and adolescence, can significantly reduce their prevalence.

A young boy sitting in the grass smiles.
Faisal Ahmed, a 9-year-old student in Bangladesh, loves all sports.

Main types of non-communicable diseases

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Preventable cancers
  • Chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma
  • Mental health conditions
  • Injuries

Main risk factors

  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Harmful use of alcohol
  • Air pollution
  • Physical inactivity

Addressing non-communicable diseases improves individual well-being and advances development. Because these diseases have implications for nutrition, education and the environment, greater action is needed from Governments, businesses and communities to prevent them from becoming epidemics.

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF works with Governments and partners to help reduce the risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases (NCDs). As a member of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on NCDs, we strive to integrate NCD prevention in our maternal, newborn and child health programmes.

Our work on non-communicable diseases extends beyond the health sector. We also support NCD prevention services in areas like education – particularly through school programmes – and child protection.

UNICEF advocates around NCD prevention and control efforts, influences national NCD policy, and empowers communities to generate demand and create public accountability.


UNICEF Programme Guidance for Early-Life Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases  (Full version) (Summary)

This technical document explains how UNICEF incorporates non-communicable-disease (NCD) prevention into programming, focusing on reducing NCD risk factors for mothers, children and adolescents. 

Silent Suffocation in Africa: Air Pollution Is a Growing Menace

Accurately measuring air quality is the key to preventing child deaths from air pollution, this report finds.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018

Jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, this report monitors progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

United Nations Interagency Task Force on NCDs

Read more from the task force that serves as the United Nations coordination system on the prevention and control of NCD epidemics worldwide.