Epidemiology for public health
Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death almost everywhere in the world. A large group of conditions belong to this category, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Other examples include mental diseases, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal disorders, vision and hearing defects and genetic diseases.


These conditions usually originate at a young age, but clinical signs may take even decades to develop. Their long duration means that they require long-term care, but also presents several opportunities for prevention.


The main chronic diseases share common and modifiable risk factors, such as unhealthy diet, tobacco use, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity, which in turn can lead to intermediate risk factors, including raised blood pressure, raised glucose levels, high cholesterol and obesity. There are also non-modifiable risk factors, such as age or genetic predisposition. Overall, these risk factors are responsible for the majority of chronic disease-related deaths in both sexes worldwide.


Chronic diseases are also linked to underlying determinants, “the causes of the causes”, which are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change: globalization, urbanization, progressive ageing of the population, environmental policies and poverty.

Publication date: 2 January 2021