UN summit targets obesity, alcohol and smoking

Alcohol and smoking are fuelling a spread in 'non-communicable' diseases.

Alcohol and smoking are fuelling a spread in ‘non-communicable’ diseases.

WORLD leaders will agree to a deal at a United Nations meeting tomorrow to try to curb the spread of preventable ”lifestyle” diseases, amid concern that progress is already being hampered by powerful food, alcohol and tobacco lobbyists.

Cancers, heart disease, diabetes and lung conditions already cost rich countries in health bills and productive lifespans of their citizens.

But the scourge of what the World Health Organisation calls the non-communicable diseases is rapidly spreading fuelled by obesity as a result of bad diet and sedentary lifestyles, together with alcohol and smoking. These diseases were responsible for about 36 million of the 57 million global deaths in 2008, including about 9 million before the age of 60 – and many are preventable.

While Western countries have imposed smoking bans, taxed cigarettes and alcohol heavily and restricted junk food advertising, most developing countries have yet to address these issues, and the food and tobacco industries are accused of adopting marketing and production strategies there that would be unacceptable in Europe or North America.

The problem has led the UN to call only its second high-level summit on a health issue – the first was on AIDS in 2001. Months of negotiation have led to a draft declaration that will be signed at the summit. But while experts commend its tough depiction of the problem and its calls for all governments to take action, there is widespread concern that an absence of targets – the WHO proposed cutting preventable deaths by 25 per cent by 2025 – will reduce its impact.

”The action statements are disappointingly weak”, said Robert Beaglehole, emeritus professor at the University of Auckland who was formerly director at the department of chronic diseases at the WHO.

”If you don’t have a serious goal, how do you assess progress?”

GUARDIAN