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The optics of noncommunicable diseases: from lifestyle to environmental toxicity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1041-1059
Number of pages19
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number5
Early online date11 Mar 2020
Accepted/In press12 Feb 2020
E-pub ahead of print11 Mar 2020
Published1 Jun 2020


King's Authors


Until recently, the noncommunicable disease (NCD) category was composed of four chronic diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease) and four shared, ‘modifiable’ behavioural risk factors (smoking, diet, physical activity and alcohol). In late 2018, the NCD category was expanded to include mental health as an additional disease outcome and air pollution as an explicit environmental risk factor. The newly-expanded NCD category connects behavioural and environmental readings of risk and shifts attention from individual acts of consumption to unequal and inescapable conditions of environmental exposure. It thus renders the increasing ‘toxicity’ of everyday life amid ubiquitous environmental contamination a new conceptual and empirical concern for NCD research. It also, as this paper explores, signals a new ‘optics’ of a much-maligned disease category. This is particularly significant as chronic disease research has long been siloed between public and environmental health, with each discipline operationalising the notion of the ‘environment’ as a source of disease causation in contrasting ways. Given this, this paper is positioned as a significant contribution to both research on NCDs and environmental risk, bringing these interdisciplinary domains into a new critical conversation around the concept of toxicity.

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