September 16th, 2011

UN calls summit on spread of 'lifestyle' diseases

The Guardian

World leaders at a meeting of the United Nations on Monday will agree a deal to try to curb the spread of preventable “lifestyle” diseases, amid concern that progress is already being hampered by powerful lobbyists from the food, alcohol and tobacco industries.

Cancers, heart disease, diabetes and lung conditions already cost rich countries dear in terms of the health bills and productive life span of their citizens. But the scourge of what the World Health Organisation calls the “non-communicable diseases” (NCDs) is rapidly spreading across all parts of the globe, fuelled by obesity as a result of bad diet and sedentary lifestyles, together with alcohol and smoking. These diseases were responsible for around 36m of the 57m global deaths in 2008, including about 9m before the age of 60 – and many are preventable.

While countries such as the UK have imposed smoking bans, taxed cigarettes and alcohol heavily and restricted junk food advertising to children, most developing countries have yet to address these issues – and the food and tobacco industries are accused of adopting marketing and production strategies there that would be unacceptable in Europe or in north America.

The scale and disastrous potential of these diseases has led the UN to call only its second high-level summit on a health issue on Monday – the first was over Aids in 2001. Months of negotiation have led to a draft declaration that will be signed at the summit. But while experts commend its tough depiction of the problem and its calls for all governments to take action, there is widespread concern that an absence of targets – the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposed cutting preventable deaths by 25% by 2025 – will reduce its impact.

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