W.H.O. urges nations to set goals for disease reduction

by Jeff Gelski
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GENEVA — Reducing sodium intake and replacing trans fats with healthier fats are two ways governments may prevent deaths from noncommunicable diseases such as heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes, according to a report released Jan. 19 by the World Health Organization.

“By investing just $1 to $3 per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs,” said Margaret Chan, Director-General of the Geneva-based W.H.O. “In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not, millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon.”

While 38 million deaths came from noncommunicable diseases in 2012, 16 million, or 42%, were premature, or came before age 70, according to the W.H.O.

The W.H.O. said governments may reduce such premature deaths through policies reducing tobacco use, harmful alcohol use and unhealthy diets along with policies that increase physical activity and deliver universal health care. The W.H.O. recommends banning all forms of tobacco advertising, replacing trans fats with polyunsaturated fats, restricting or banning alcohol advertising, promoting ways to prevent heart attacks and strokes, promoting breastfeeding, implementing public awareness programs on diet and physical activity, and preventing cervical cancer through screening.

The W.H.O. gave the example of Hungary passing a law to tax food and drink components such as sugar, salt and caffeine. A year later, 40% of manufacturers had changed their product formulas to reduce the taxable ingredients and people were consuming 25% to 35% fewer products with the ingredients.

The report provides the baseline for monitoring the implementation of the W.H.O.’s “Global action plan for NCDs 2013-2020,” which aims to reduce the number of premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases by 25% by 2025. In that report, the W.H.O. provides nine global targets, one of which is a 30% reduction in mean population intake of salt/sodium.
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