Background: Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are leading causes of premature disability and death worldwide. However, the lifetime risk of developing any NCD is unknown, as are the effects of shared common risk factors on this risk.
Methods and findings: Between July 6, 1989, and January 1, 2012, we followed participants from the prospective Rotterdam Study aged 45 years and older who were free from NCDs at baseline for incident stroke, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. We quantified occurrence/co-occurrence and remaining lifetime risk of any NCD in a competing risk framework. We additionally studied the lifetime risk of any NCD, age at onset, and overall life expectancy for strata of 3 shared risk factors at baseline: smoking, hypertension, and overweight. During 75,354 person-years of follow-up from a total of 9,061 participants (mean age 63.9 years, 60.1% women), 814 participants were diagnosed with stroke, 1,571 with heart disease, 625 with diabetes, 1,004 with chronic respiratory disease, 1,538 with cancer, and 1,065 with neurodegenerative disease. NCDs tended to co-occur substantially, with 1,563 participants (33.7% of those who developed any NCD) diagnosed with multiple diseases during follow-up. The lifetime risk of any NCD from the age of 45 years onwards was 94.0% (95% CI 92.9%–95.1%) for men and 92.8% (95% CI 91.8%–93.8%) for women. These risks remained high (>90.0%) even for those without the 3 risk factors of smoking, hypertension, and overweight. Absence of smoking, hypertension, and overweight was associated with a 9.0-year delay (95% CI 6.3–11.6) in the age at onset of any NCD. Furthermore, the overall life expectancy for participants without these risk factors was 6.0 years (95% CI 5.2–6.8) longer than for those with all 3 risk factors. Participants aged 45 years and older without the 3 risk factors of smoking, hypertension, and overweight at baseline spent 21.6% of their remaining lifetime with 1 or more NCDs, compared to 31.8% of their remaining life for participants with all of these risk factors at baseline. This difference corresponds to a 2-year compression of morbidity of NCDs. Limitations of this study include potential residual confounding, unmeasured changes in risk factor profiles during follow-up, and potentially limited generalisability to different healthcare settings and populations not of European descent.
Conclusions: Our study suggests that in this western European community, 9 out of 10 individuals aged 45 years and older develop an NCD during their remaining lifetime. Among those individuals who develop an NCD, at least a third are subsequently diagnosed with multiple NCDs. Absence of 3 common shared risk factors is associated with compression of morbidity of NCDs. These findings underscore the importance of avoidance of these common shared risk factors to reduce the premature morbidity and mortality attributable to NCDs.