Chronic disease as great a threat as terrorists

According to international experts the global threat from chronic disease is as great as the threat of terrorism and too little is being done to fight it.

At an international forum on global disease currently being held in Sydney the word is that the focus by many governments around the world on fighting terrorism has been at the expense of addressing the unfolding epidemic of four chronic lifestyle diseases.

Experts gathered at the Oxford Health Alliance Summit say heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and cancer account for 60 per cent of the world's deaths, yet reducing these rates is not a priority.

Professor Stig Pramming, the executive director of the Alliance, says while new and re-emerging threats such as SARS, avian flu, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, bioterrorism and climate change are dramatic and emotive, it is the quiet and rapidly spreading epidemics which are in fact threatening to 'cripple both our bodies and our economies'.

Professor Pramming says it is the preventable chronic diseases which will send health systems and economies to the wall.

Professor Lawrence Gostin, a law expert and an adviser to the U.S. government, says the issue of chronic disease, particularly obesity, had so far barely registered a blip on either side of the U.S. presidential campaign even though the human costs are frightening.

Professor Gostin says obesity can shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation, resulting in the first reversal in life expectancy since data collecting began in 1900.

The Sydney Resolution, revealed at the summit calls for global action to target the three key triggers of chronic disease, smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet.

A new global initiative is being demanded to develop more walk-able, cycle-able and environmentally-friendly towns and cities, as well as fresh efforts to make healthy food more affordable, available and profitable.

The resolution says that the way we live now is making people sick, the planet sick and is unsustainable.

The summit has brought together world experts across a range of areas, including academia, government, business, law, economics and urban planning to promote change.

According to Associate Professor of public health Ruth Colagiuri, from the University of Sydney, 4 million working days were lost each year in Australia due to obesity; she says fresh food needed to become more affordable and the sugar, fat and salt content of food reduced.

The three-day summit, Building a Healthy Future, was organised by the Oxford Health Alliance, a coalition of health and business groups including researchers from the University of Oxford, and will finalise recommendations for urgent action to be given to the Federal Government's 2020 summit in April.

Professor Anthony Capon, of the University of Sydney, has called for cities to be redesigned as "human habitats" if the dual crises of chronic disease and global warming is to be solved.

Professor Capon says jobs, services, schools and shops needed to be built close to where people live and public transport needed to be improved so that physical activity can be built back into people's lives.

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