World health officials adopt global health strategy

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health was today endorsed by Member States at their annual Health Assembly in Geneva. The strategy addresses two of the major risk factors responsible for the heavy and growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which now account for some 60% of global deaths and almost half (47%) of the global burden of disease. NCDs include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers and obesity-related conditions.

"This is a landmark achievement in global public health policy and provides our Member States with a powerful instrument, which will enable them to develop effective and integrated national strategies to reduce the human and socioeconomic costs of non-communicable diseases," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, WHO. "The burden of death, illness and disability caused by noncommunicable diseases is now greatest in developing countries, where those affected are on average younger than in the developed world."

WHO has developed the strategy over the past two years through a wide-ranging series of consultations with all concerned stakeholders, including Member States, other UN agencies, civil society and nongovernmental organisations, and the private sector. The strategy specifies roles for these stakeholders in reducing NCDs. The strategy emphasizes the need to limit the consumption of saturated fats and trans fatty acids, salt and sugars, and to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables and levels of physical activity. It also addresses the role of prevention in health services; food and agriculture policies; fiscal policies; surveillance systems; regulatory policies; consumer education and communication including marketing, health claims and nutrition labelling; and school policies as they affect food and physical activity choices.

There was extensive debate on the strategy during the Health Assembly, and a drafting group met for two days to agree upon amendments to the resolution adopting the strategy. These included the addition of paragraphs to address concerns expressed by some Member States that nothing in the strategy should be construed as justification for the adoption of trade-restrictive or trade distorting practices; to reaffirm that the strategy complements WHO's strong commitment to addressing malnutrition, and to reaffirm that appropriate levels of intakes for energy, nutrients and foods should be determined in accordance with national guidelines and dietary habits and practices.

"Noncommunicable diseases are imposing a growing burden upon low and middle-income countries, which have limited resources and are still struggling to meet the challenges of existing problems with infectious diseases," said Dr Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO Assistant-Director General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "The strategy recommends a prevention-oriented approach that emphasizes the need for countries to develop coherent, multi-sectoral national strategies with a long-term, sustainable perspective, to make the healthy choices the preferred alternatives at both the individual and community level. We welcome the commitment shown by Member States to the strategy and will be working closely with them to help them implement its recommendations."


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