Youth & NCD Digital Health Interventions

A library of research on how digital health interventions can engage youth in low- and middle-income countries to minimize their risks of noncommunicable diseases.

AstraZeneca Young Health Programme

This site presents summaries of research projects from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) on the effectiveness of digital health interventions, such as apps, websites, and online games, in curbing the following key risk behaviors for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) among youth: tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.

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Why Focus on NCDs and Young People?

NCDs, such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, are the leading causes of death worldwide. Premature deaths from NCDs, defined by the World Health Organization as occurring between ages 30 and 70, take place disproportionately in LMICs and affect individuals at the height of their economic productivity.

NCDs pose a major threat to the health of populations, place an increasing burden on health systems, and threaten economic growth and development. Prevention is therefore a critical priority for addressing the growing NCD epidemic. In addition, the Sustainable Development Goals call for reducing premature mortality from major NCDs by one-third by 2030. Early intervention that focuses on young people is key to reducing premature NCD mortality.

Over 80% of premature deaths from NCDs are due to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. These NCDs share four key behavioral risk factors—tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diet—that are all modifiable and typically begin or become habits in adolescence and young adulthood.

Today, there is a unique window of opportunity to curb the NCD epidemic before young people develop unhealthy behaviors and while many LMICs still have relatively young populations. By encouraging young people to adopt positive behaviors and limit negative ones as they gain autonomy over their lives, we can reduce premature deaths from NCDs and set youth on healthier paths into adulthood.

Why Study Digital Health Interventions for Youth in LMICs?

The opportunity to implement digital health interventions in LMICs is increasing as access to the internet expands globally, particularly for young people who access the internet at a higher rate than older age groups. While many digital health interventions addressing the risk behaviors among young people have been tried and evaluated in high-income countries, such interventions have been much less common in LMICs. What’s more, only a few have been evaluated and information about their evaluation is scattered.

About the Studies

The research presented on this site covers a range of digital platforms, including phone apps, text messaging, websites, social media platforms, and online games. Only interventions that specifically targeted young people within the age range of 10 to 24, or those with a study sample predominantly composed of young people were considered for inclusion. Studies were further limited to those that had samples large enough to assess the effectiveness of the interventions, and most were published in 2015 or later.

Many of the studies suffered from limitations, including small sample sizes, high attrition rates, short trial periods, and reliance on self-reporting, and very few were grounded in theoretical behavior change. Nevertheless, our summaries highlight a variety of efforts to use digital platforms to address NCD risk behaviors in youth, some of which have shown promising results, and help build a knowledge base for anyone working to develop, revise, or better understand such interventions to improve health outcomes and to reduce the growing NCD epidemic.