In a report published today, “Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2014", the WHO reiterated its aim to reduce the number of premature deaths from NCDs like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer by 25% by 2025, from a 2010 baseline. Of the 38 million annual deaths from NCDs, it estimates that 42% (16 million) are premature and avoidable.
“The global community has the chance to change the course of the NCD epidemic,” said WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan. “By investing just US$ 1-3 dollars per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs. In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not, millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon.”
Salt and taxes
Among ‘best buy’ solutions detailed in the report, the WHO cites salt reduction strategies for packaged foods and bread in the Americas, and Hungary’s tax on sugar, salt and caffeine. Argentina has achieved a 25% reduction in the salt content of bread, while 40% of Hungarian manufacturers had reformulated to reduce taxable ingredients within a year of the law’s implementation, and sales of products subject to the tax declined 27%.
For salt reduction, WHO said the keys to success included “voluntary salt reduction, education, health promotion, food labelling, regulation, ongoing monitoring, evaluation and reporting, research, and collaboration with the private sector”.
Globally, sources of sodium are shifting rapidly toward processed foods as they become more widely available, and intakes in some European countries were among the highest in the world, the WHO said.
The report includes nine voluntary targets to tackle risk factors for NCDs, including tobacco use, salt intake, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and harmful use of alcohol.
“Falling short of the targets would be unacceptable,” said WHO’s assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health Dr Oleg Chestnov. “If we miss this opportunity to set national targets in 2015 and work towards attaining our promises in 2025, we will have failed to address one of the major challenges for development in the 21st century.”
Other cost-effective, high-impact – or ‘best buy’ – interventions suggested by the WHO include replacing trans fats with polyunsaturated fats, restricting or banning alcohol advertising, and implementing public awareness programmes on diet and physical activity.
The full report is available online here.