The UN health chief delivered an urgent call to action to world leaders on Monday: Stand up against the tobacco and fast food industries and promote healthy living or the cost of combating cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease will devour your economic gains.
In a hard-hitting speech at the opening of the first-ever UN meeting on chronic diseases, which account for nearly two-thirds of deaths worldwide, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan (陳馮富珍) said “the root cause of these diseases are not being addressed, and widespread obesity is the telltale signal.”
If urgent action isn’t taken, she said, “the rising financial and economic costs of these diseases will reach levels that are beyond the coping capacity of even the wealthiest countries in the world.”
Chan pointed to a newly released World Economic Forum and Harvard University study that estimated that over the next 20 years, noncommunicable diseases would cost the global economy more than US$30 trillion. That represents 48 percent of the global GDP last year, the study said.
Worldwide, stroke and heart-related diseases account for nearly half of all noninfectious disease deaths — 17 million in 2008 alone, the WHO says. Next is cancer (7.6 million deaths), followed by respiratory diseases such as emphysema (4.2 million). Diabetes caused 1.3 million deaths in 2008, but that’s misleading — most diabetics die of cardiovascular causes.
“The worldwide increase of noncommunicable diseases is a slow-motion disaster,” Chan said. “This meeting must be a wake up call for governments at their highest level.”
Chan said the rise of these diseases is being driven by urbanization and globalization of unhealthy lifestyles.
The results, she said, have been an almost doubling of worldwide obesity rates since 1980 and heavily marketed junk foods high in salt, trans-fats and sugar becoming staples in nearly every corner of the world.
“Junk foods ... are readily available and heavily marketed,” she said. “For a growing number of people, they are the cheapest way to fill a hungry stomach.”
However, Chan said that the world doesn’t need to be fed with junk food, which leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“In some countries, care for diabetes consumes 15 percent of the national budget,” she said.
In large parts of the developing world, Chan said, these diseases are detected late, require costly hospital care, cost billions of dollars in lost national income and push millions of people below the poverty line every year.
“These diseases break the bank and they are largely preventable through cost-effective measures,” she said.