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UN calls for action against diseases caused by tobacco, pollution, and lack of exercise

By United Nations
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A top UN official today called on governments, private companies and individuals to join in the battle against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), those that are linked to tobacco, pollution, food and lack of exercise.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, addressing a forum entitled The Human and Economic Case to Urgently Address Non-communicable Diseases, said the UN and partners would join in a campaign to “promote exercise, reduce excessive consumption of alcohol and cut the use of tobacco products.”

Speaking before a group of experts preparing for September's UN high level meeting summit on non-communicable diseases – which account for nearly two thirds of global deaths each year – Ms. Migiro said “changing individual habits is essential. After all, people can decide for themselves

whether they smoke or drink too much, or whether they fail to get exercise or over-eat.”

But, Ms. Migiro said, governments and private corporations also have a role.

“Governments can take decisions that reward and encourage healthy habits. Equally, they can raise the financial cost of unhealthy habits. Governments can also strengthen health care for people with NCDs. They can fund research.

“The private sector can make sure that while they pursue profits, they also protect health. Companies can adjust the formulas of their foods to include better ingredients and ban those that are known to be harmful, like transfats.

“Companies can also act responsibly when marketing products to children. And all of us can take measures to keep harmful chemicals out of our environment.”

Two thirds of all new cases of NCDs can be prevented by addressing the four main risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption, the Deputy Secretary-General said.

Ms. Migiro said NCDs are wrongly labelled as “diseases of affluence” – affecting people with enough money to buy rich foods, alcoholic drinks, and tobacco products, and to not have to work very much.

“Certainly this describes some cases, but not the vast majority,” she said. “Poor countries suffer 80 per cent of the NCD death toll. Poor mothers who lack good nutrition in pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies vulnerable to NCDs later in life.”

Smoking rates are highest among men in lower-middle-income countries. Those countries also suffer two thirds of all cancer deaths. Africa has the highest rate of people living with raised blood pressure, she said.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) 36.1 million people died in 2008 from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes. Nearly 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.