With the United Nations summit on noncommunicable disease less than a year away, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have now contributed to a growing number of voices worldwide calling for urgent action to address the chronic disease epidemic.
In a statement sent this week to the Presidency of the European Union, four MEP groups wrote, “Chronic non-communicable diseases account for 86% of deaths in the WHO European Region. They include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, cancers, respiratory and liver diseases. Because most are treatable but not always curable, they generate an enormous financial burden due to treatment costs, care costs and loss of productivity.”
The MEPs note that chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) affect more than a third of Europe’s population, comprising over 100 million citizens, and that four preventable health determinants – tobacco use, poor diet, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity – account for most of chronic illness and death in Europe. Prevention costs less than disease management and treatment, yet 97% of health expenses currently are spent on treatment and only 3% invested in prevention.
The statement advises EU member states to follow recommendations from a policy paper entitled “A Unified Prevention Approach.” That 20-page document was issued in July by the Chronic Disease Alliance, a coalition of 10 separate European nonprofit professional medical organizations, including those representing hepatology, oncology, cardiology, nephrology, respiratory medicine, and diabetology.
The Alliance’s recommendations include a call for harmonization of tobacco taxation across Europe, standardization of cigarette packaging with 80% of the package devoted to pictorial health warnings, and a ban of tobacco sales via the Internet and vending machines.
They also recommend a ban of added trans fat to foods, introduction of a traffic light color coding system to food labels (with green being the most healthful and red the least), increased access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, and EU measures to prohibit marketing of unhealthful food to children. Other recommendations address the promotion of physical activity and the reduction of alcohol consumption and dependence.
According to the Alliance, “Simple policies could save millions of lives and cut billions of euros in direct and indirect costs…By acting now, the European Commission will be doing something that transcends anything else it may accomplish.”
–Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)