Syndemic contexts: findings from a review of research on non-communicable diseases and interviews with experts

Irene Pirrone*, Marjolein Dieleman, Ria Reis, Christopher Pell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Syndemics are characterized by the clustering of two or more health conditions, their adverse interaction, and contextual factors that create the conditions for clustering and/or interaction that worsens health outcomes. Studying syndemics entails drawing on diverse disciplines, including epidemiology and anthropology. This often means collaboration between researchers with different scholarly backgrounds, who share and–ideally–integrate their findings. Objective: This article examines how context within syndemics has been defined and studied. Methods: A literature review of empirical studies focusing on syndemics involving non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health conditions was conducted and the full text of 13 articles was analyzed. The review was followed-up with semi-structured interviews with 11 expert researchers working in the field. Results: The review and interviews highlighted a relatively consistent definition of syndemics. The reviewed studies of NCD-related syndemics tended to focus on micro-level context, suggesting a need to analyze further underlying structural factors. In their syndemics research, respondents described working with other disciplines and, although there were some challenges, welcomed greater disciplinary diversity. Methodological gaps, including a lack of mixed methods and longitudinal studies, were identified, for which further interdisciplinary collaborations would be beneficial. Conclusions: NCD-related syndemics research would benefit from further analysis of structural factors and the interconnections between syndemic components across multiple levels, together with more ambitious research designs integrating quantitative and qualitative methods. Research on the COVID-19 pandemic can benefit from a syndemics approach, particularly to understand vulnerability and the unequal impacts of this public health crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1927332
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Health Action
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the expert interview participants who took time out to talk to us.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • conceptualisation
  • context
  • interdisciplinarity
  • methodology
  • Syndemics


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