Regional Director addresses ministers on preventing chronic diseases

In the WHO European Region, the lion’s share of the disease burden comprises just four groups of disease: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. These diseases are linked by common determinants: almost 60% of the disease burden in Europe is attributable to seven leading risk factors: high blood pressure, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, high blood cholesterol, overweight, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, noted that Europe has already acknowledged that preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) goes beyond individual responsibility, in an address to ministers in Brussels today.

“We have strong collective experience on the use of price as an incentive or disincentive for behaviour, on the control of advertising of unhealthy goods, on the reduction of salt through food product reformulation, and on the planning of urban environments to facilitate the use of active transport, among others. Healthy choices are easier when the policy environment nudges us in that direction or when the environment makes them the automatic choices,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab.

Ms Jakab argued that tackling NCDs offers opportunities for shared policy intervention. She appealed for stronger intersectoral action, looking at the ways in which healthy public policy can benefit other sectors. Transport policies, for example, can increase mobility and quality of life in cities, while also increasing physical activity, reducing injury and reducing pollution. Broader issues of how intersectoral action can be governed, evaluated and sustained must also be considered. This in turn, requires stronger health systems.

The new European health policy, Health 2020, is being developed by WHO/Europe and stakeholders as an instrument of unity in joint action for public health in Europe.

Zsuzsanna Jakab was speaking at the Ministerial Conference “Innovative approaches for chronic illnesses in public health and healthcare systems”, organized by the Belgian Government during its presidency of the European Union.