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Our Own Worst Enemy: 90 Percent Of All New Zealand Deaths Link Back To Modifiable Behaviours

New report breaks down how risk factors and non-communicable diseases cause most NZ deaths

A new report from AIA NZ has uncovered the five risk factors that lead to the five most common preventable non-communicable diseases which account for more than 90 percent of New Zealand’s deaths.

The findings, rooted in research originally founded by the United Nations, demonstrate how many of the world’s deaths are caused by lifestyle factors that contribute to preventable but deadly diseases.

Coined 5590, the five risk factors of physical inactivity, poor nutrition, smoking, excess alcohol and environment interaction, contribute to five common non-communicable diseases: cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and poor mental health.

Fig 1: a breakdown of AIA NZ’s 5590 framework

The widespread impact of non-communicable diseases

Further local independent research conducted by AIA NZ shows that Kiwis vastly underestimate the impact non-communicable diseases have in the community. Half of Kiwis think non-communicable diseases account for only 10-50% of deaths in New Zealand each year. In reality these diseases account for 90 percent.

Nick Stanhope, AIA NZ Chief Executive, says the case for focusing on health promotion and preventing non-communicable diseases is stronger than ever.

“Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause for preventable death not only in New Zealand but across the globe. In 2019, 74 percent of the world’s total deaths were caused by non-communicable diseases. Furthermore, non-communicable diseases took seven places in the top 10 causes of death,” says Stanhope.

“Covid-19 has been on our minds for the past year, with more than a third of Kiwis thinking Covid-19 was responsible for the most deaths globally in 2020. However, the more insidious threat is non-communicable disease.

“At AIA NZ, we believe it’s our social responsibility to move away from simply being a payer of claims, to partner with Kiwis to live Healthier, Longer, Better lives.”

Realising New Zealand’s disease burden

Nearly three quarters of New Zealanders know someone close to them who has suffered from a non-communicable disease. Furthermore, a third of Kiwis surveyed have personally suffered from a non-communicable disease and more than half are worried they’ll suffer a heart attack or heart condition at some point.

Of those who have suffered from a non-communicable disease, a quarter say they could have prevented it with better understanding of the pre-cursory risk factors and how to prevent them.

“That’s more than 465,000 Kiwis who, by making small lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of disease, could have saved themselves suffering from a non-communicable disease,” Stanhope continues.

“Additionally, nearly four million New Zealanders have felt the impact of non-communicable diseases on their close friends and family. It’s imperative we focus on a preventative healthcare mindset to significantly reduce this burden on our families, friends and communities.”

A long, hard look at mental health

A third of Kiwis have suffered a period of poor mental health or mental illness in their life, and more than half of Kiwis know someone who has suffered a period of poor mental health or mental illness.

“Mental wellbeing is becoming an increasingly important pillar for Kiwis both individually and as an integral part of business operations. Naturally, it was important for us to incorporate poor mental health into 5590 as a non-communicable disease.”

AIA’s 5590 report shows that mental health effects, and is affected by, other non-communicable diseases.

Poor mental health and other NCDs share several common causes and outcomes, and can frequently occur in the same person. For example, depression increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease at an early age, while cardiovascular disease increases the chance of developing depression.

Many studies also show there is a correlation between depression and an unhealthy diet and smoking - both of which are key risk factors in the 5590 framework.

The environment and public health

The environment encompasses everything external to people, including physical, natural, social and behavioural environments. 5590 recognises how our interactions with the environment can impact our health.

“The environment is being increasingly recognised as a cause of disease, with research showing links between non-communicable diseases and environmental factors such as air pollution, climate change, agriculture, and urbanisation,” Stanhope notes.

“We cannot thrive in an unhealthy environment, while the environment cannot thrive when our behaviours aren’t healthy.”

Alarmingly, more than a third of Kiwis are concerned about environmental risk contributing to a non-communicable disease later in life. Furthermore, half of Kiwis are concerned that climate change and poor air quality will affect their health in the future.

Prevention not progression

The goal of 5590 is to keep people healthy and reduce the chance of Kiwis developing preventable non-communicable diseases.

“AIA NZ wants to increase peoples’ control over their own health by engaging and empowering individuals and communities to choose healthy behaviours and make changes that reduce the risk of developing non-communicable diseases,” Stanhope continues.

“Central to AIA NZ’s preventative healthcare focus is AIA Vitality, our market-leading health and wellbeing programme. Through AIA Vitality members are empowered and incentivised to make small lifestyle changes with the aim of decreasing their risk of developing a non-communicable disease.

Collectively, New Zealand AIA Vitality members have taken enough steps to walk to the moon and back nine times, 3,200 members have had free Vitality health checks, 1,000 Kiwis have had Molemaps and $27,000 has been donated to AIA Vitality charity partners.

“If we can get Kiwis to build healthy habits over time or live in less risky conditions, then we can reduce the incidence of health problems associated with these risk factors. In turn, we will create a healthier country and a health system built on prevention as opposed to treatment.”


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