Health experts lash out at food industry for putting public health at risk
Whether it was cheaper pharmaceuticals or healthy food, the first day of discussions on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the UN General Assembly had experts talking about improving access. The high-level General Assembly meeting was attended by more than 30 heads of states and governments and at least a 100 senior ministers and experts. Speakers at one of the roundtables at the Assembly said that while individuals had a responsibility to change their behaviour to reduce disease risk, these changes required healthy choices being made available and affordable.
India's Union minister for health and family welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad emphasised access to health care. "We must address the issue of trade barriers which restrict access to affordable and newly developed medicines. It is vital to ensure universal access to medicines, including through the full use of the flexibilities contained in the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health," he said.
The governments and public health experts lashed out at the food industry. UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon called upon corporations that sell processed foods to act with the integrity. “There is a well-documented and shameful history of certain players in industry who ignored the science, sometimes even their own research, and put public health at risk to protect their own profits,” he said. A representative of the International Food and Beverage Association said members recognized the important role they had in helping prevent non-communicable diseases by reformulating products and ensuring responsible advertising.
The meeting comes at a crucial time when non-communicable diseases are linked to 63 per cent of deaths around the world. The diseases affect the poor more. In lower-middle- and low-income countries, the increase in prevalence of overweight and obesity over the past three decades was greater than in upper-middle and high-income countries, with rates of obesity doubling over the three decades between 1980 and 2008. Between 1980 and 2008, the prevalence of raised total cholesterol did not decline in lower-middle-income countries. Each 10 per cent rise in NCDs is associated with lowering of annual economic growth by 0.5 per cent, suggests an analysis.
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