Can epidemics be non-communicable? Reflections on the spread of ‘non-communicable’ diseases

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


This article argues that the concept of communicability that is central to the distinction between communicable diseases (CDs) and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is poorly conceptualized. The epidemic spread of NCDs such as diabetes, depression, and eating disorders demonstrates that they are communicable, even if they are not infectious. We need to more critically explore how they might be communicable in specific environments. All
diseases with epidemic potential, we argue, should be assumed to be commun
icable in a broader sense, and that the underlying medical distinction between infectious and noninfectious diseases confuses our understanding of NCD epidemics when these categories are treated as synonymous with ‘communicable’ and ‘noncommunicable’ diseases, respectively. The dominant role accorded to the concept of ‘lifestyle’, with its focus on individual responsibility, is part of the problem, rather than the solution, and the labelling of some NCDs as ‘lifestyle diseases’ is misleading. Founded on a critical understanding of global health and globalized medicine, we propose to explore the dynamics of the phenomena of contamination and biosocial contagion in networks. An analytics of biosocial epidemics needs to be developed by a medical anthropology that is engaged in a critical dialogue with both medicine and biology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedicine Anthropology Theory
Pages (from-to)54-71
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2015


  • noncommunicable diseases
  • biosocial epidemics
  • social networks
  • contamination
  • life conditions
  • lifestyle


Dive into the research topics of 'Can epidemics be non-communicable? Reflections on the spread of ‘non-communicable’ diseases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this