World governments are focussing too much on fighting terrorism at the expense of addressing the unfolding chronic disease epidemic, according to an international legal expert.
Distinguished American law Professor Lawrence Gostin told the Oxford Health Alliance Summit in Sydney February 23 that prevention of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and smoking illnesses should take top priority.
Prof Gostin, an advisor to the US government and Director of the Law Centre at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, said that although global terrorism is ‘a real threat’, it cannot compare to the risk chronic diseases presented to large populations.
“There’s a political paralysis in dealing with the issue. In the current US Presidential campaign, prevention of obesity and the effect it is having on the poor has so far registered barely a blip on the Democratic side of politics and zero on the Republican side,” according to Prof Gostin.
“Yet the human costs are frightening when we consider that obesity could shorten the average lifespan of an entire generation, resulting in the first reversal in life expectancy since data collecting began in 1900.”
Prof Gostin told delegates at the summit that any aggressive food marketing and advertising of unhealthy food must be better regulated.
“I don’t accept the view of the United States Supreme Court that there is a big freedom of speech issue. The truth is some sections of the food industry are lacing product with hidden salt, sugar and fat and the public simply isn’t aware of it.”
The Oxford Health Alliance (OxHa) summit, Building a healthy future: chronic disease and our environment, has gathered world experts across a range of areas, including academia, government, business, law, economics and urban planning, to plan ways of preventing the explosion of chronic disease through changing behaviours, policies and perspectives at every level of society.
According to Professor Stig Pramming, Executive Director of OxHA, the quieter and rapidly spreading epidemics of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and tobacco use ‘threatened to cripple our bodies and our economies’.
“It is true that new and re-emerging health threats such as SARS, avian flu, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, bioterrorism and climate change are dramatic and emotive. However, it is preventable chronic disease states that will send health systems and economies to the wall,” he said.
The summit will unveil the Sydney Resolution, a global call to action to avert the millions of premature deaths that will occur as a result of heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and many cancers.
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