(April 2015) Establishing healthy behaviors among young Africans could help stem a looming regional epidemic of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory conditions, according to this PRB policy brief and data sheet with comprehensive data appendix.

In all North African countries except Sudan, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are already responsible for at least three-quarters of all deaths. Based on current trends, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that NCDs will become the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, surpassing AIDS and other conditions that predominate today.

The four main risk factors for NCDs are tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, and insufficient exercise—behaviors that are often established in early adolescence and young adulthood and which set the stage for NCDs later in life. Focusing on youth is critical in Africa because of its large and growing number of young people. Africa has the youngest population among the world regions.

The reports show that youth in some African countries already have high levels of all of the risk factors and these are likely to rise further throughout the region unless action is taken now.

The policy brief and data sheet include a "dashboard," rating youth in 52 African countries as high risk, medium risk, or low risk on various aspects of the four main NCD risk factors. The appendix provides all currently available country-specific data on NCD risk factors among African young people since 2004. These reports extend an earlier publication, Noncommunicable Disease Risk Factors Among Young People in Africa: Data Availability and Sources. The set of publications was supported by the AstraZeneca Young Health Programme (YHP).

The data sheet highlights these indicators:

  • Total Population
  • Population Ages 10 to 24
  • Secondary School Enrollment
  • Percent Living in Urban Areas
  • GNI PPP per Capita
  • Age-Standardized Death Rates for All NCDs
  • Percent of All Deaths Due to NCDs
  • Probability of Premature Death From NCDs

Downloadable PDFs:

Materials are also available in French.


Toshiko Kaneda is a senior research associate at the Population Reference Bureau. Reshma Naik is a senior policy analyst in International Programs at PRB.