UN to Wealthy Nations: Chronic Diseases Are Killing Economic Growth
Amidst all the talk about nation-building, Arab uprisings, problems in the Middle East and political talking heads at last week's United Nations General Assembly was a thoughtful and serious discussion of the rising costs, in the developing world and westernized nations, associated with "noncommunicable diseases." Translation: Western ailments such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
This was only the second general assembly meeting to focus on health; the first was 10 years ago when nations came together to deal with the AIDS epidemic. Research presented at the meeting revealed that these chronic diseases kill more than 36 million people each year and will cost the global economy almost $47 trillion in the next 20 years. Fighting heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and respiratory disease will be difficult and costly, particularly in developing nations where medical resources are already sparse. Prior to the meeting, a new report from the World Bank pointed out that Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia face high and rapidly increasing chronic disease levels that now exceed those in high-income countries.
And just a week after the meeting ended, expectations for implementing needed actions highlighted at the meeting have already been lowered, since cash-strapped "wealthy" nations are unlikely to help fund initiatives in poorer countries. Because unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use are the common roots of chronic disease, food, drug, and tobacco companies will have to step up to the plate as well, and these industries have obvious conflicts of interest in funding public health initiatives. The General Assembly adopted a declaration recognizing the health impact of chronic diseases, but stopped short of setting goals to reduce their effects.
Shortly after the UN's meeting, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a report titled, "Bringing Agriculture to the Table: How Agriculture and Food Policy can Play a Role in Preventing Chronic Disease." Not surprisingly, the report concluded that if the agriculture and food sectors worked more closely with the health sector, the rising prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases could be significantly reduced. Over the last century, the global food system has evolved to deliver greater choice and lower cost for consumers. Unfortunately, it's often at the expense of less-processed and culturally appropriate foods and sensible portions. The report points out ways that international organizations, governments, and consumers can influence the agriculture and food sectors in a positive way to change the trend.
http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/UserFiles/File/GlobalAgDevelopment/Report/Bringing_Agriculture_To_The_Table.pdf http://www.medpagetoday.com/tbprint.cfm?tbid=28634 http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USTRE78I5XT20110919