Enough. Our Health. Our Right. Right Now.
5 September 2019 by Emma Lonsdale
During the Global Week for Action on NCDs (non-communicable diseases/chronic diseases) 2 - 8 September, people around the world are united in their call for action: Enough. Our Health. Our Right. Right Now.
Global momentum is growing. Calls for urgent action to reduce the enormous burden of chronic disease worldwide are getting louder.
One in two Australians have a long-term chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes or kidney disease. These statistics represent real people and the numbers are frightening.
Too many of us lose loved ones early due to these diseases. Many of us require ongoing care and frequent medical visits, and others remain unaware of silent undiagnosed conditions until we face serious complications.
Much of this burden could be prevented. Modifiable risk factors like unhealthy weight, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and high blood pressure account for more than one-third of avoidable disease burden in Australia.
Globally, the World Health Organization says that 80 percent of premature stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease could be prevented, and 40 percent of cancers could be avoided.
But how? The World Health Organization has created a set of Best Buys for governments to reduce tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity. The Best Buys are evidence-based, cost-effective and feasible. And strongly opposed by powerful food and alcohol industry groups.
In Australia, we are world leaders in tobacco control despite fierce industry opposition at every step of the way. The number of Australians who smoke has decreased over the years in line with government policies. There are great success stories in this area, as well as continuing challenges with the rise of e-cigarettes and industry-funded groups, like the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.
Our success in reducing the impact of unhealthy diets and alcohol has been limited, with industry influence and poor resourcing likely contributors. Recent reports suggest that the draft Australian National Alcohol Strategy has been watered down in line with industry concerns. Meanwhile the food industry has a long history of involvement in food policy and regulation. This includes recent food labelling and reformulation programs. Both initiatives rely on voluntary industry uptake and progress has been slow.
The new National Prevention Strategy offers an opportunity to draw on the proven Best Buys to reduce risk factors in Australia. We are adamant that the strategy’s development should be transparent and that the food and alcohol industries should have no place at the table due to commercial conflict of interest. Importantly, we are hopeful that the political interest in prevention will be matched by meaningful investment.
The chronic disease burden is compelling. The evidence on prevention policies is clear. Now is the time for action.
The Global Week for Action on NCD is led by the global @ncdalliance and shared by chronic disease groups and individuals around the world.
Emma Lonsdale is the Executive Officer of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance @ACDPAlliance.