Health secretary Andrew Lansley has urged governments across the world to be “bold and determined” in working together to tackle so-called ‘lifestyle’ conditions caused by poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol abuse.
He made his call for action on cancer, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes at a speech to the United Nations conference on non-communicable diseases this week, saying that preventing the risk factors which led to them could in turn prevent millions of deaths.
Lansley invoked the spirit of UN meetings more than 50 years ago on infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio, “the greatest health challenges of their day”.
“Today, we face new challenges from obesity, lung disease and alcohol-related diseases,” he told an audience in New York.
“These are inextricably linked to the way we live our lives. They are just as widespread, just as chronic and increasingly threaten early mortality and disability,” he went on.
Tackling the causes of health inequalities would only be possible via what he called a “whole government” approach “looking at better outcomes and helping individuals to make better choices about their own health”.
“With an emphasis on prevention, on physical activity, on personal and corporate responsibility and with unified government action, we can make a big difference,” he concluded.
Delegates to the UN conference will sign a declaration on how they are to effect a global response focusing on preventing these conditions.
In the UK, the government is to set out later this year how obesity will be tackled in the restructured NHS.
The Department of Health says food producers are already removing transfats and reducing the levels of salt in their food, while drinks companies are reducing the amount of alcohol in some brands.