Global Health

Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, drink plenty of water, and drink alcohol and soda in moderation.

This is the kind of advice you’ve heard from every doctor, but health experts from around the world say it’s time to start yelling.

A report released simultaneously in three leading health journals Thursday says the patterns of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) globally require an “all hands on deck” response to promote healthy lifestyles.

The Cost of Unhealthy Lifestyles

NCDs are responsible for 63 percent of deaths worldwide each year. 

Specifically, the report authors are targeting heart problems, diabetes, and cancer. The 36 million people who die from these common diseases cost the world $6.3 trillion a year. That equates to 8 percent of the gross world product. 

Controllable risk factors for these common killers include cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels, obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet.

“All of the noncommunicable diseases that are caused by these risk factors are potentially preventable, or can be changed, through people leading healthy lifestyles,” Ross Arena, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and chair of the policy statement, said in a press release. “The challenge is how to initiate global change, not towards continuing documentation of the scale of the problem, but towards true action that will result in positive and measurable improvements in people's lifestyles.”

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A Call to Arms in the Health Community

The statement from the American Heart Association, European Society of Cardiology, the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, and the American College of Preventive Medicine stresses the importance of communicating how people can modify their behavior to prevent many common diseases.  

Being overweight or obese causes 3.4 million deaths worldwide, costing $2 trillion. Accordingly, physical inactivity is responsible for 5.3 million deaths, making it the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, the report states. 

health

But these experts want more than just doctors to do all the talking.

They propose healthy lifestyle initiatives be implemented at every level of society, including the family, companies, industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations worldwide.

The effort would include reliable and researched messaging about healthy lifestyle choices through traditional and social media, wearable tech manufacturers, video games, and mobile software.

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Changing the Way the Healthcare System Works

The group recommends the treatment of preventable diseases “move outside of the traditional, often reactionary, healthcare model.”

“Prevention is the key and preventive strategies at earlier stages in the community are best, for instance at the very beginning of life,” Arena said.

But the road to change, the author argues, is rife with barriers that need to be removed to help people implement healthy lifestyles.

One of those barriers is how people view the “nanny state” when restrictions on harmful substances are implemented. Another barrier is the pressure from lobbyists for special interest groups, such as the food industry.

Prevention is the key and preventive strategies at earlier stages in the community are best.
Ross Arena, University of Illinois at Chicago

Those relationships erode public trust in government actions, the report states, as well as the short sightedness of governments that “base their priorities on the election cycle and are unable or reluctant to take a longer view.” 

Extra attention should also be paid to educating women, particularly in racial and ethnic communities, because women are often the key decision-makers about diet and lifestyle in the family. 

“This document proposes a rethinking of healthcare delivery. Lastly, the 'healthy lifestyle ambassadors' will be drivers of this process, representing stakeholders and collaborating with one another,” Arena said. “They are at the grassroots level and will provide the 'people power' that is needed.” 

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