Battle against deadly lifestyle diseases figures high on UN agenda next week

An unhealthy diet is one of the major risk factors for a range of chronic diseases linked to obesity

15 September 2011 – The United Nations is set to launch an all-out attack next week on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), bringing together dozens of heads of State to promote the lifestyle changes needed to curb the soaring toll of a scourge that already causes over 63 per cent of all the world’s deaths.

The high level General Assembly meeting, held at the start of its annual General Debate on Monday and Tuesday, is only the second ever to deal with health (the first was HIV/AIDS), and will tackle four NCDs, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and chronic lung disease, which are influenced by modifiable risk factors – tobacco, diet, obesity, alcohol and lack of exercise.

“They are the leading cause of mortality globally,” Ala Alwan, an Assistant Director-General at the UN World Health Organization (WHO), told the press at UN Headquarters today, calling the meeting a “very important milestone for public health” that is also a development issue.

“These are problems that are increasing at a very fast rate in magnitude. WHO estimates that there will be a 17 per cent increase in mortality over the coming 10 years, and the fastest increase will be seen in developing populations, mainly Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific region,” he added, noting that NCDs claimed 36 million lives in 2008.

More than 9 million of these deaths occurred before the age of 60, and 90 per cent of these were in low- and middle-income countries, meaning that 58 per cent of all NCD deaths in a developing country occur before the age of 60, a figure that drops to only 7 per cent in a rich country such as Sweden, Dr. Alwan noted.

Thirty-four heads of State and government, 50 other leading government ministers and many specialists are expected to attend the sessions.

“The high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly is a chance to set the global agenda on the global struggle on NCDs,” Dr. Alwan said. “There are major challenges that countries face in preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases but there is now a global vision and there is a road map.”

Outlining three priority areas for the 193 Member States to take, he cited surveillance and monitoring; reduction of risk factors such as harmful uses of tobacco and alcohol, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise; and a health-care component to tend to the millions already suffering from NCDs.

“Obviously this is not a challenge for the health sector alone. This is a challenge for the whole Government,” he said. “This requires the active engagement of non-heath sectors; sectors like finance, industry, commerce, information, urban planning have to be very much involved in national initiatives to reduce non-communicable diseases.”


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