Health and disease risk factors


Health and wellbeing are affected by many factors, and those that cause ill health, disability, illness or death are known as risk factors. A risk factor is a property, condition or behaviour that increases the likelihood of illness or injury.

Individual risk factors are often talked about, but in practice they do not occur separately. They often coexist and interact. For example, lack of physical activity will cause weight loss, hypertension and high blood cholesterol levels over time.

These factors combine to increase the likelihood of chronic heart disease and other health problems. Ageing populations and increased longevity have led to an increase in long-term (chronic) diseases and disorders that require expensive treatment.

Demand for medical care is increasing, and the industry’s budget is under increasing pressure that it cannot always withstand. As members of society and users of health systems, it is important that we understand the causes and risk factors of disease and participate actively in affordable prevention and treatment programs that save money.

In general, risk factors can be divided into the following groups:

  • Behavioural,
  • physiological,
  • demographic,
  • related to the environment,
  • genetic.

Let’s look at them in more detail.

Types of risk factors

Behavioural risk factors

Behavioural risk factors usually refer to the actions a person takes at his or her own discretion. Therefore, such factors can be eliminated or reduced by changing lifestyles or behaviour. Examples include

  • smoking tobacco,
  • alcohol abuse,
  • eating habits,
  • lack of physical activity;
  • Long-term exposure to the sun without adequate protection,
  • the lack of a series of vaccinations,

Physiological risk factors

Physiological risk factors are related to the human body or biological characteristics. They may be affected by heredity, lifestyle and many other factors. Examples include

  • overweight or obese,
  • high blood pressure,
  • high cholesterol levels in the blood,
  • high blood sugar (glucose) content.

Demographic risk factors

Demographic factors relate to the population as a whole. Examples include

  • age,
  • the floor,
  • Subgroups of the population depending on their occupation, religion or income level.

Environmental risk factors

Environmental risk factors cover a wide range of phenomena, such as social, economic, cultural, political, physical, chemical and biological factors. Examples include

  • access to clean water and sanitation,
  • risks in the workplace,
  • air pollution,
  • social environment.

Genetic risk factors

Genetic risk factors are associated with human genes. A number of diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, are caused by the “genetic make-up” of the body.

Many other diseases, such as asthma or diabetes, reflect the interaction of human genes and environmental factors. A number of diseases, such as sickle-cell anaemia, are more common in certain subpopulations.

Global mortality risks and demographic factors

In 2004, the number of deaths for any reason worldwide was 59 million.

The table below shows the ten most common risk factors that caused the majority of deaths in 2004, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). All six leading risk factors at the beginning of this ranking are related to the potential development of long-term diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.


For high- and middle-income countries, the most important risk factors are those related to long-term diseases, while in low-income countries, risk factors such as child malnutrition and unprotected sex are much more prevalent.


Health risk factors also vary with age. A number of risk factors, such as malnutrition and smoke caused by the use of solid fuels, affect almost exclusively children. The risk factors affecting adults also vary markedly with age.

  • Unprotected sex and addictive substances (alcohol and tobacco) are the causes of most diseases in young people.
  • The risk factors for long-term illnesses and oncology mainly affect older people.

Health risk factors are different for men and women. For example, men are at greater risk of suffering from addictive factors. Women often suffer from iron deficiency during pregnancy.

Reducing the impact of risk factors

Reducing existing risk factors and their impact can significantly improve health and increase life expectancy by many years. This would reduce health care costs.

The project newsletter can be seen as an example of how significant the impact of existing risk factors is on people’s health and longevity.


The project is seen as an example of how significant the impact of risk factors on people’s health and longevity is, and how people can take action to reduce the impact of these risk factors on their health and well-being.