- 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 Cardiology (ESC)
- European Society of Hypertension (ESH),
- European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO),
- Federation of European Nurses in Diabetes (FEND),
- International Diabetes Federation – European Region (IDF Europe),
is campaigning for the introduction of innovative measures addressing tobacco, poor diet, alcohol and lack of physical activity to prevent chronic diseases and protect the future health of the European population.
“We firmly believe that investment in healthy lifestyles is the only sustainable way forward to prevent chronic disease,” says Professor Lars Rydén, chair of the ESC Prevention Group and the driving force behind the creation of the group. “The diseases represented in the Alliance have striking commonalities and interactions, underlining the fact that there are issues common to chronic diseases which can be addressed by the same policy measures.”
The document, titled “A Unified Prevention Approach”(1), brings together the long-term scientific knowledge and research of leading European organisations in the fields of health promotion, disease prevention and health care. “This year billions will be spent on the treatment of avoidable chronic disease in Europe, and millions of lives will be unnecessarily lost or impaired. If radical action is not taken now, this costly burden will continue to increase,” says Rydén, from the Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden).
“This unique alliance of medical professionals is committed to taking action on their belief that prevention is better than cure. Working side-by-side with decision-makers will secure the most cost-effective and long-term strategy for a better and healthier future for the entire European population,” says David Kerr, President of ESMO, Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Oxford.
Chronic non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, cancers, respiratory and liver diseases, account for 86% of deaths in the WHO European Region (2). Furthermore, up to 40% of the EU population aged over 15 reports having a long standing health problem and two out of three people who have reached retirement age have at least two chronic conditions.
“A Unified Prevention Approach” stresses that while the individual human costs cannot be overstated, chronic disease also places an unsustainable financial burden on health care budgets.
"A key message is that health equals wealth and that investing in health ultimately will lead to improvements in the European economy,” says Rydén.
Recommendations in the document, based on scientific evidence and experience, include:
- Tobacco: Ensure that taxation on tobacco is harmonised at high levels across Europe; adopt standardised packaging for cigarettes with 80% of the package being devoted to pictorial health warnings; ban internet sales of tobacco and cigarette vending machines.
- Nutrition: Make efforts to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content a key priority; ban the addition of industrially produced trans fats to foods; introduce a mandatory traffic light colour coding system (using red, orange and green labels to show whether products contain high, medium or low levels of harmful nutrients) to facilitate consumer education; increase supply and access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables, and EU measures to prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
- Physical activity: Set urban planning standards to prioritise non motorised transport and for recreational areas encouraging physical activity, give children access to periods of physical activity each day at school, and improve facilities for physical activity in school.
- Alcohol consumption: Create educational programmes to reinforce awareness of problems created by excessive alcohol consumption to ensure EU populations are better informed and investment in the development and implementation of alcohol dependence programmes. In addition, ban alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship of events via TV radio and sports programmes and ensure the introduction of uniform minimum EU taxes.
“Further to successful discussions during the last Chronic Disease Alliance meeting, we are looking forward to the EU Health Commission’s recommendation on actions to support public health strategies and mobilise political support to curb health and economic burden linked to chronic conditions,” said Professor Mark Thursz, Vice Secretary of EASL and Professor of Hepatology at Imperial College (London, UK).
In welcoming this initiative, Chris Delicata, President of IDF European Region, based in Brussels, said, "Increasing the opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles will assist in reducing the serious complications of chronic conditions."