Incorporating a Structural Approach to Reducing the Burden of Noncommunicable Diseases

Background Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for over two-thirds of deaths worldwide, and global efforts to address NCDs have accelerated. Current prevention and control efforts rely primarily on individual behavior/lifestyle approaches that place the onus of responsibility for health on the individual. These approaches, however, have not stopped the increasing trend of NCDs worldwide. Thus, there is urgent need for exploring alternative approaches in order to attain the aim of reducing global premature NCDs mortality by 25% by 2025, and meeting the NCD reduction objective in the Sustainable Development Goals. Discussion We suggest the need for a structural approach to addressing the NCDs epidemic that integrates social science and public health theories. We evaluate two overarching principles (empowerment and human rights) and three social determinants of health (labor and employment, trade and industry, and macroeconomics) addressed in the 2013 Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs to demonstrate how a structural approach to NCDs can be incorporated into existing NCD interventions. For each area considered, theoretical considerations for structural thinking are provided and conclude with recommended actions. Conclusion Achieving the global health agenda goals of reducing NCDs mortality will require a shift to a paradigm that embraces concerted efforts to address both behavioral/lifestyle factors and structural dimensions of NCDs.