On the way home yesterday I was musing about the UN summit on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) happening next week. If I was in charge what would I do?

As we are dealing with limited resources in many countries, prevention could achieve more than concentrating on cure. What I’d do about NCDs would be to ban cigarettes and unhealthy foods. At a stroke the risks for many NCDs would be reduced!

Unfortunately (for me that is) I’m not ruling the world, and such total bans are rather unrealistic. However it is true that smoking and obesity stemming partly from poor diets rich in salt, sugar and fats raise the risk for many NCDs and as such should be high on the agenda at the summit.

According to the NCD alliance “The single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, tobacco kills 5.4 million people a year. If left unchecked, that number will increase to more than 8 million a year by 2030.”  Smoking increases risk of heart disease, several cancers and respiratory diseases. We know how to reduce levels of smoking- there is an international agreement in place – the WHO framework convention on tobacco control. Great strides have been made with no-smoking campaigns, legislating and taxing against smoking and curbing advertising in the developed world and lung cancer rates have fallen as a result. The challenge is to translate this to other parts of the globe.

Obesity- this one is growing and growing, now a problem worldwide not just in developed countries. IASO has a nice map on its website showing how big the problem is. No-one has reversed the obesity epidemic yet, in any country. Obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some of the most common cancers. Recently some opinion leaders have likened dealing with the obesity epidemic to developing tobacco control campaigns. They point out that in both there are strong industry interests to deal with.

The industry effect at this summit could be interesting.

Some further reading:

Lancet series on Obesity

WHO report on Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases

 For research information about public health worldwide see Global Health database

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