In a Symposium on Monday – ‘Noncommunicable diseases joining forces for a better impact on European Union policy’ – former ESC President Lars Rydén, ESC representative in the Alliance, said the paper takes into account ‘the striking commonalities and interactions’ of many chronic diseases, which can all be addressed by the same policy measures.
The document, titled ‘A Unified Prevention Approach’, has brought together the accumulated scientific knowledge and research of leading European organisations in the fields of health promotion, disease prevention and health care, including the ESC, European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), European CanCer Organisation (ECCO), European Heart Network (EHN), European Kidney Health Alliance (EKHA), European Respiratory Society (ERS), European Society of Hypertension (ESH), European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), Federation of European Nurses in Diabetes (FEND), and International Diabetes Federation- European Region (IDF Europe).
‘We firmly believe that investment in healthy lifestyles is the only sustainable way forward to prevent chronic disease,’ said Rydén, from the Karolinska Institutet here in Stockholm. He is also chair of the ESC’s prevention group on the ESC Committee for EU Relations, and was the driving force behind the creation of the Alliance. ‘This year,’ he noted, ‘billions will be spent on treating avoidable chronic disease in Europe, and millions of lives will be unnecessarily lost. If radical action is not taken now, this costly burden will continue to increase.’
Statistics from the WHO European Region show how great the burden of chronic noncommunicable diseases now is in Europe, where they account for 86% of deaths and affect 40% of the population over 15 years. It is also estimated that two out of three people who have reached retirement age have at least two chronic conditions.
While the individual human costs cannot be overstated, chronic disease is placing an unsustainable financial burden on healthcare budgets. ‘So one of our key messages is that health equals wealth and that investing in health will ultimately lead to improvements in the European economy,’ said Rydén.
Recommendations in the alliance campaign document include:
- Tobacco. Harmonise tobacco taxation across Europe, devote 80% of cigarette packaging to visual health warnings, and ban internet sales of tobacco and cigarette vending machines.
- Nutrition. Make efforts to reduce fat, sugar and salt content in food, ban the addition of industrially produced trans fats, introduce a mandatory traffic light colour coding system, increase supply and access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, ban the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
- Physical activity. Ensure children have access to physical education every day at school and improve PE facilities, set urban planning priorities for nonmotorised transport and parks.
- Alcohol consumption. Ban alcohol advertising on television and radio, introduce uniform minimum EU taxes on alcohol and create educational programmes to raise awareness of excessive alcohol consumption.