The term chronic disease applies to a group of diseases that tend to be long lasting and have persistent effects. This is opposed to acute diseases, which have a quick onset and are often brief, intense and/or severe.
Many factors influence how healthy we are. Some of these function on an individual level, for example, health behaviours or genetic make-up, while others function at a broader societal level, such as the availability of health services, vaccination programs or a clean and healthy environment. All these influencing factors are known collectively as determinants of health.
Figure 1 presents a conceptual framework of the pathways involved in the health and functioning of individuals and the population.
Figure 1: A conceptual framework for determinants of health
Source: AIHW 2012. Risk factors contributing to chronic disease. Cat. no. PHE 157.
Health determinants can influence our health in either a positive or negative way. Determinants affecting health in a negative way are commonly referred to as risk factors. They can increase the likelihood of developing a chronic disease, or interfere in the management of existing conditions.