Non-communicable diseases like heart attacks and strokes, cancers, and diabetes are responsible for over 63% of deaths in the world today. The US alone is said to spend US$ 2 trillion per year on health.
The UN “High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases” opened yesterday in New York to set a new international agenda for tackling them.
Amongst the list of low-cost measures to counter the burden of non-communicable diseases are campaigns to reduce salt content and replacement of trans fats with polyunsaturated fats, along with public awareness programmes about diet and physical activity.
A number of non-profit public health advocacy groups have joined together to call for strong public policy measures to curb nutrition and alcohol-related diseases, and to introduce safeguards against conflicts of interest in the policy-making process.
“World leaders need to demonstrate their dedication to public health nutrition as they have already begun to do for tobacco control,” said Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest-Canada and the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations.
“Leaders fall short when they white-wash ineffective food industry promises, and duck specifics on regulatory reform while backward-looking World Trade Organization rules (and Codex Alimentarius Commission nutrition standards) tie the hands of national governments.”
Paul Lincoln of the UK-based National Heart Forum added: “Leaders simply must get fundamental disease rate-reduction targets locked in – starting with 25% by 2025 – and really embrace effective regulations on population-level salt reduction and trans fat elimination, nutrition standards for school meals, food tax reform, controls on the marketing of high fat, salt and sugar foods and alcohol to children and young people, and front of pack labelling in order to safeguard the health and economic development, nationally and internationally.”
The list and the costs
In addition to fat and salt intakes, WHO identifies excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol, smoke-free indoor workplaces and public places, and health information and warnings on its list of low-cost interventions.
"Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, killing ever more people each year. Nearly 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries," says Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO.
"The challenge to these countries is tremendous, but this study proves that there are affordable steps all governments can take to address non-communicable diseases."
A new study from WHO revealed that such low-cost strategies could be introduced for just US$ 1.20 per person per year.