Countries urged to set national targets and implement proven interventions to prevent premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases

Every year, 16 million people die prematurely – before the age of 70 – of heart and lung diseases, a stroke, cancer or diabetes, according to the “Global Status Report on noncommunicable diseases 2014”, released by WHO today. The report states that most of these deaths are preventable and, with an investment of only US$1-3 dollars per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

Every country needs to set national targets, to implement cost-effective actions to reduce tobacco use, the harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and to deliver universal health care. WHO recommends cost-effective and high-impact interventions, notably, banning all forms of tobacco and alcohol advertising, eliminating trans fats, promoting and protecting breastfeeding, and preventing cervical cancer through screening. Implementing these policies effectively involves actions outside the health sector, including public policies in agriculture, education, food production, trade, taxation and urban development.

Countries in the WHO European Region adopt initiatives to reduce NCD burden

Turkey was the first country to implement all the recommended measures for tobacco reduction. In 2012, the country increased the size of health-warning labels to cover 65% of the total surface area of each tobacco product. Tobacco taxes now make up 80% of the total retail price, and there is currently a complete ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship nationwide. As a result, the country saw a 13.4% relative decline in smoking rates from 2008 to 2012.

Hungary passed a law to tax food and drink components with a potential harmful effect on health when consumed to excess, such as sugar and salt. A year later, 40% of manufacturers changed their product formulae to reduce the taxable ingredients, and people consumed 25–35% less of the targeted products that were not reformulated.

As early as the 1970s, Finland began working on salt reduction, including significant public awareness campaigns. In 1993, mandatory salt labelling was introduced, and products containing particularly high levels of salt were also required to carry warning labels. This was accompanied by the introduction of a “better choice” logo, supported by the Finnish Heart Association, which identified low-salt options. Daily salt intake in Finland dropped from approximately 12 g/day in the late 1970s to as little as 6.8 g/day among women by 2002.

Meeting global targets for NCDs

The WHO report provides the baseline for monitoring implementation of the “Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013–2020”, which seeks to reduce the number of premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025. Outlined in the action plan are nine voluntary global targets that address key NCD risk factors, including tobacco use, salt intake, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and the harmful use of alcohol.

The report reveals that much remains to be done in all countries, especially in donor-dependent nations, to attain the voluntary global targets by 2025. Although there is no single pathway to attain NCD targets that fits all countries, the report gives information and guidance on how to scale up national efforts to prevent and control NCDs.