Population at risk: Why so many Tongans are
dying of NCDs?
According to the STEPS report, produced by the World Health Organisation and the Tongan Ministry of Health, the leading cause of death within Tonga is non-communicable diseases (NCDs). This includes cardiovascular disease (38%), cancers (9%), respiratory diseases (7%), diabetes (5%), and other NCDs (15%). Together, these NCDs account for 74% of all adult deaths within the Kingdom. The report identified a number of risk factors that have led to the current NCDs crises affecting so many Tongans.
What are NCDs?
Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases, are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow progression. The 4 main types of non-communicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes. These 4 groups of diseases account for 82% of all NCD deaths. Tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from an NCD. *
The overall prevalence of smoking among those aged 15-64 was 31%, with a higher proportion being male (46.2%) compared to females 16.3%.
The overall prevalence of drinkers (defined as having consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months) among those aged 15-64 was 13.4%, with a significant difference between men (22.2%) and women (4.8%).
Fruit and vegetable intake
Approximately 92.8% of Tongans aged 15-64 reported that they consumed less than five combined servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Among those aged 15-64 years, 43.9% reported a low level of total physical activity, with a higher proportion of those being female (54.8%) compared to male (32.4%).
The overall prevalence of obesity was 68.7% among those aged 25-64 (60.7% men and 76.3% women).
Among those aged 25-64 years, the overall prevalence of raised blood glucose was 16.4%. No gender differences were found.
Approximately 49.7% of those surveyed aged 25-64 had raised total blood cholesterol levels, with a significantly higher proportion of those being men (66.1%) compared to women (34.2%)
Overall, it was found that 60.7% of the surveyed population was at High Risk of NCDs (3-5 risk factors), while a further 39.2% were at a moderate risk (1-2 risk factors). Risk factors included being a (1) daily smoker, (2) being overweight, (3) having raised blood pressure, (4) having consumed less than five combined servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and (5) having engaged in a low level of activity.