Governments vow to step up fight against lifestyle diseases

News release

SEOUL, Republic of Korea, 18 March 2011—In response to the rising tide of lifestyle-related diseases, a dozen World Health Organization (WHO) Member States today endorsed the Seoul Declaration on Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Control in the Western Pacific Region.

The declaration calls on all Member States to sustain political support for efforts to combat the most common noncommunicable diseases—cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory conditions and diabetes—which together are responsible for four out of every five deaths in the Western Pacific.

The document, which was endorsed on the final day today of a Regional High-level Meeting on Scaling up Multisectoral Action on Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Control, also calls on WHO Member States to work to reduce the four major risk factors that contribute to noncommunicable diseases: tobacco use; diets high in fats, salt and sugar; the harmful use of alcohol; and physical inactivity.

"Noncommunicable diseases are claiming victims at increasingly younger ages, even during childhood, depriving many of our citizens of their most productive years," Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told the meeting. "These premature deaths not only devastate families by claiming the lives of primary wage-earners, but they weaken communities and national economies, making it more difficult to achieve equitable and sustainable development."

Nearly 30 000 people in the Western Pacific Region, made up of 37 countries and areas, die every day due to noncommunicable diseases, which can be prevented, the meeting heard.

Tobacco use alone claims 3000 lives in the Western Pacific Region every single day, according to the latest WHO estimates. Those estimates also indicate that 15% of all deaths among males 15 to 44 in the Region can be attributed to alcohol.

On the global level, WHO's data show that overweight and obesity are responsible for 44% of all diabetes cases. And physical inactivity is estimated to cause between 15% and 25% of breast and colon cancers, and is responsible for 30% of the heart disease burden.

The Seoul Declaration, developed in consultation with WHO's Member States, technical experts and various stakeholders, gives the Western Pacific Region an opportunity to raise its collective voice on the issue ahead of the September 2011 High-level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

The Seoul Declaration places particular emphasis on the need for a multisectoral, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to noncommunicable disease.

"Many people think noncommunicable disease is simply a health issue that can be solved by the health sector alone," said Dr Shin. "But to win the battle against these diseases, the health sector must join hands with other sectors—agriculture, education, the environment, the food industry, trade, transportation and others.

"The private sector—those involved in producing, marketing and trading food—can take important steps to make our food healthier," Dr Shin said. "In addition, actions can be taken by city planners and transportation officials to create urban environments that promote healthier and more active lifestyles.

"Our goal is to make it easier for all of our citizens to make healthier choices," he said.

Throughout history, changes in the ways we live, the foods we eat and the work we do have evolved slowly, allowing our bodies to adapt. But changes over the past few decades—particularly rising urbanization, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and the aggressive marketing of foods unnaturally high in fat, salt and sugar—have occurred so rapidly that our bodies have not had time to adapt.

As a result, noncommunicable diseases are rising rapidly and now affect every country in the Western Pacific Region.

The rising tide of noncommunicable diseases is further straining already overburdened national health systems.

"Unlike communicable diseases, which tend to affect people quickly, noncommunicable diseases generally progress much more slowly, creating complex health needs that are expensive to treat and can overwhelm already stressed health systems," Dr Shin said.

The problem is likely to get worse. The latest WHO projections of mortality and disease burden indicate that deaths due to cancer will rise by more than 60% in the first 30 years of this century. And deaths linked to cardiovascular disease are expected to rise more than 70% over the same period.

And it is usually the poorest people who have the highest burden of noncommunicable disease, as they often have greater exposure to risk factors and less access to preventive and therapeutic services.

The Seoul Declaration also calls on Member States to strengthen health systems and provide adequate human and financial resources for noncommunicable disease programmes.

For more information, please contact: Dr Cherian Varghese, Technical Officer, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion Mobile: +63 9285220200 (roaming) E-mail: Dr Hai-Rim Shin, Team Leader, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion Mobile: +82 10 3871 1035 (mobile in Korea); Mobile (roaming): +6309 08894 5524 E-mail: