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Smoking, drinking, diet and physical activity—modifiable lifestyle risk factors and their associations with age to first chronic disease


Background — This study examined the incidence of a person’s first diagnosis of a selected chronic disease, and the relationships between modifiable lifestyle risk factors and age to first of six chronic diseases.

Methods — Ontario respondents from 2001 to 2010 of the Canadian Community Health Survey were followed up with administrative data until 2014 for congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive respiratory disease, diabetes, lung cancer, myocardial infarction and stroke. By sex, the cumulative incidence function of age to first chronic disease was calculated for the six chronic diseases individually and compositely. The associations between modifiable lifestyle risk factors (alcohol, body mass index, smoking, diet, physical inactivity) and age to first chronic disease were estimated using cause-specific Cox proportional hazards models and Fine-Gray competing risk models.

Results — Diabetes was the most common disease. By age 70.5 years (2015 world life expectancy), 50.9% of females and 58.1% of males had at least one disease and few had a death free of the selected diseases (3.4% females; 5.4% males). Of the lifestyle factors, heavy smoking had the strongest association with the risk of experiencing at least one chronic disease (cause-specific hazard ratio = 3.86; 95% confidence interval = 3.46, 4.31). The lifestyle factors were modelled for each disease separately, and the associations varied by chronic disease and sex.

Conclusions — We found that most individuals will have at least one of the six chronic diseases before dying. This study provides a novel approach using competing risk methods to examine the incidence of chronic diseases relative to the life course and how their incidences are associated with lifestyle behaviours.



Ng R, Sutradhar R, Zhan Y, Wodchis WP, Rosella L. Int J Epidemiol. 2020; 49(1):113-30. Epub 2019 Apr 26.

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