Contagion – Part two: Non-communicable diseases, are they really not communicable?

By Anne Malatt and Paul Moses, Australia. 

In the not-so-distant past, contagious or communicable diseases were greatly feared, and the cause of many deaths, often on a mass scale. The Black Plague, the Spanish Flu, and smallpox all come to mind and are seared in our collective memories. With the advent of modern sanitation and medicine, these diseases have become much less common. As they have waned, the importance of non-communicable diseases has risen.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now account for 68% of all deaths, worldwide, every year. (1)

In Australia, chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness, disability and death, accounting for 90% of all deaths in 2011. (2)

What are non-communicable diseases (NCDs)?

The four main types of non-communicable diseases are:

  • Cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and strokes)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma), and
  • Diabetes

NCDs are largely preventable

Non-communicable diseases are largely preventable, through interventions that address the main risk factors, which are:

  • Tobacco use
  • Harmful use of alcohol
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity (3)

Eliminating major risk factors could prevent most NCDs

If the major risk factors for non-communicable disease were eliminated, around 75% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes would be prevented, and 40% of cancer cases would be prevented. (4)

This is huge.

The largest causes of death are largely preventable, by modifying our lifestyles.

Knowing this (and we do) why do we still choose to live in a certain way, especially a way that is known to cause illness and disease?

Why do we choose to eat too much and to eat junk food, to smoke and drink, and lounge on the lounge watching TV?

We all know that these behaviours are harming us, so why do we do them, and then continue to repeat them, even when we can see and feel the consequences of these choices?

What do these behaviours do for us?

Is it possible that we use these behaviours in a specific way to not feel particular emotions we don’t want to feel?

Why do we smoke?

We may smoke because we are lonely – we miss ourselves, we miss true connections with other people, and some would say we miss our connection with our true purpose in life, and with God. Sure, cigarettes can be addictive, but there has to be an emptiness there for us to want to fill ourselves with smoke, a coldness and a dampness there that we warm, if only for a moment, when we breathe in stuff that’s on fire!

Why do we drink?

Alcohol can feel like our best friend too. We can use it as a substitute for truly caring for ourselves. The sugar picks us up and the alcohol numbs us, for a moment, from the sadness, the tiredness and the tension that we feel, but it is a poison for our bodies that we use instead of truly dealing with how we feel.

Why do we eat too much, or eat food loaded with fat, sugar and salt?

We eat for all sorts of reasons, but these foods offer us comfort – they can fill an emptiness and they offer us a degree of numbness from our pain and suffering, that allows us to carry on as we are – and they are cheap, quick and readily available.

And why don’t we move?

Many of us are exhausted and have given up on ourselves, and on life. And in time, this way of being can lead to depression, obesity, and further inactivity.

But these are not natural behaviours – they are learned behaviours.

And where do we learn them?

The vast majority of these behaviours are set up in our family home. We learn to eat, drink and live in a certain way from the people we grow up with, in most cases, from our parents. It can be very hard to change these behaviours that we learn at an early age, and many of us find ourselves repeating them, even if we swore we would not, as we observed them when we were young. These are not just ways of eating and drinking, but ways of living and being with each other. And they are ways we have developed to try and not feel the stress and tension, to numb the ill-at-ease, of our everyday lives.

So, if the way we live can lead to illness and disease, and these illnesses are largely due to our lifestyle and largely preventable, is it possible that these diseases are contagious too?

We don’t think of diseases such as heart attacks and arthritis as being contagious…but what if they are?

What if diseases that ‘run in the family’ (which we now call ‘genetic’) are just as contagious as the common cold?

What if the way we are with each other and the way we live can be passed on just as easily as the bugs we sneeze onto other people when we are sick?

How would this understanding change the way we viewed illness and disease, and the way we viewed raising families and being with each other?

If we saw that chronic diseases may also be contagious, through passing on the way we live, we would see that how we live can make a difference to our own health, and to that of everyone around us.

We have a responsibility for the choices we make, that affect the energy we are in, that then affects everyone, just as if we passed on an infectious disease.

But hang on!

Laughter is also contagious.

Joy is contagious.

So is harmony.

So is stillness.

And truth.

And love.

And the power of these feelings is far stronger than the force of the emotions that can lead to dis-ease.

It is our choice – whether to live in a way that leads us to illness and disease, or to live in a way that offers harmony, love, stillness, truth and joy, for ourselves and for everyone we meet.




Read more:

  1. True health: are we missing something? 
  2. The fat myth continues
  3. Bad luck causes cancer… and the world is flat
  4. The Art of Healing through Living



703 thoughts on “Contagion – Part two: Non-communicable diseases, are they really not communicable?

  1. I love the idea of lifestyle illnesses being contagious because it brings so much more responsibility to our doorstep. We cannot blame genetics, genetics are an excuse for not changing behaviour. If we know we are genetically pre-disposed to something, would you not consider everything about your life as your medicine?

  2. Great reminder that we are constantly reflecting qualities, of one kind or another, to one another: qualities that inspire us to be more of who we are, or that diminish and undermine that.

  3. This really emphasises the effects we have on one another and that we role model behaviours, choices, and how to be with ourselves and others.

  4. In the same way that cells in our body copy each other and multiply so too can behaviours within a family or social group. In choosing harmony, love, stillness, truth and joy this can inspire both yourself and those around you.

  5. The largest causes of death are largely preventable, by modifying our lifestyles. – sort of says it all really. We are the masters of our own making or demise. I know first hand that my body feels and responds to everything, and we continuously have a choice of if we harm or heal.

  6. This is very interesting. Reflection is truly powerful and that is basically how we get educated and trained to live a human life, and in that we develop a kind of antibody to immunize ourselves against certain things, and looking at the way things are in this modern day and age, quite a few of us seem to have developed very strong antibodies against Stillness.

  7. Yes even though there might be genetic predispositions there is always the choice to change the way we are living so much so that there is no room for the disease to develop. As we have epigenetics this is very possible.

  8. This is such a great blog. When I looked at the top 4 risk factors for disease, all I saw was the outplay of unhappy lives. The author expanded each one beautifully, exploring what we get out of each Band-Aid for an unhappy/purposeless life. I and significant research would absolutely agree that the coping methods we choose are passed down to us in our families, as a contagious disease is spread.

  9. “What if the way we are with each other and the way we live can be passed on just as easily as the bugs we sneeze onto other people when we are sick?” I know how easy it is to pick up mannerisms from other people. Just the other day I noticed that I was sitting in a way that an ex partner of mine used to often sit and at work, if I am not careful, I can begin to pick up bags without bending, or throw bags in to a heap in the same way that some of my workmates do. I have a responsibility to myself, my body, to always take care and I notice how I can pick up healthy habits from others and visa versa. How we do what we do has a much greater influence than we might think

  10. The concept proposed here makes a lot of sense to me, as it would be easy to just go along with the common explanation of disease passed on from generation to generation as being caused by similar genetic make-up, but simply learning the same behaviour from our parents as if it is the ‘only way’ to be is much more plausible, as genetics alone do not predict human behaviour so accurately. Also, using genetics as the cause of hereditary illness and disease is a way to not take responsibility for everything that happens to us, which we can not avoid, but attempt to do so by any means.

  11. Non-communicable diseases, are definitely on the increase, because as a population obesity, diabetes, drugs, alcohol, cancer etc are all on the rise, and every behaviour has been learnt from another, if we start to change our choices others will be inspired to follow.

  12. Tobacco use Harmful use of alcohol Unhealthy diet Physical inactivity… What an extraordinary list… This could surely be on the front page of every media every day until humanity finally wakes up and addresses this glaring discrepancy in our awareness.

  13. We only create the uncertainty of knowing who we are when we look outside ourselves and adopt learned behaviours in order to not feel the dis-ease in our body from living in separation to the love we know we are within.

  14. ‘The largest causes of death are largely preventable, by modifying our lifestyles.’ and the lifestyles we choose are affected by our parents’ lifestyles where we either copy or rebel against how they lived. Consumption of alcohol affects more than just the consumer because of the aggression and poor driving that results.

  15. What I can feel is how the term ‘non-communicable diseases’ seems to give it a connotation of it being somewhat accidental and independent, eliminating a sense of responsibility from us as a community of people – how our own choice might have an affect on others.

  16. The way we are living is either healing us or harming us, the way we see others live around us has for sure an impact on us but we always have the choice to say yes to it or not.

  17. We all influence each other all the time even if it is only on a subconscious level. How we then act or react to this influence is paramount to our health and continued way of living. Children are most vulnerable in this area as are those under stress or little sleep, so looking after ourselves at continuing deeper levels and being role models for those around us has to be one of our greatest responsibilities.

  18. How we live is what leads to our illness and disease, and it either supports the body or slowly wears it down. To ignore this obvious fact you have to be living in a big fat lie and be in denial all the time.

  19. In regards to genetics and things “running in the family”, I believe that it has little to do with our genetic makeup. It’s nearly all to do with learned behaviours. You watch people move, act and live in the same way as their parents. Perhaps that is the cause of “genetic” diseases and not simply the luck of the draw with our genetic makeup.

  20. In any given moment we have the choice to breathe in the love that we are, or not breathe it, and thus breathe in all that we are not.

  21. We have a dual relationship with learning. On the one hand, we learn content, about a subject. On the other we learn behavior, patterns. While the first is always clear that comes from the outside, in the second one we make what we learn ours. Unfortunately for us, though, those learnings can really harm us without us realizing so and even defending them for being part of us.

  22. Bringing the idea of contagious disease to our current range of lifestyle-related illnesses and diseases allows us a different perspective on causation and also on prevention. The simplest form of prevention would be to take responsibility for the way we’re living in our bodies, both for ourselves and for the role-modelling influence that our behaviour has on those around us. It’s clear from the questions you raise, that emotion, whether positive or negative, is highly catching – and it’s simply a matter of choice as to which type we choose to align to in our every moment.

  23. The Black Death killed around 50 million people in England in the 14th Century, a shocking figure on every level, but worldwide we have 5 million people dying each year from tobacco-related illnesses. Add this up to a century and that would be 500 million people. Although the population of England was much smaller so relatively a much higher portion of the population were wiped out, the value of one person’s life has not changed and these figures are reflective of today’s standards. Will we continue to self-inflict this current plague of non-communicable and lifestyle related diseases on ourselves, and our society through influence?

    1. Susie, the figures on tobacco highlight to me the lack of worth and lack of value we hold ourselves with, and the absence of understanding that our life is precious. Your comment would make a great basis for an article or blog. Comparing the Black Death statistics with tobacco deaths certainly puts tobacco use into perspective.

  24. Highlighting the true impact certain learned behaviours have on our body that we have adopted in order to not feel what we have buried and why that hinders our ability to connect to our essence and knowing who we are.

  25. ‘What if diseases that ‘run in the family’ (which we now call ‘genetic’) are just as contagious as the common cold?’ We are constantly evolving our understanding of the root cause of disease and illness and this concept is definitely something to ponder on.

    1. I’ve often wondered when I see a cluster of the same health condition in a family if it’s related to lifestyle behaviours passed along in the family.

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