“Sugar poses enough health risks that it should be considered a controlled substance just like alcohol and tobacco, contend a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF),” in an opinion piece called “The Toxic Truth About Sugar,” published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, TIME’s “Healthland” blog reports (Rochman, 2/2). “While acknowledging that food, unlike alcohol and tobacco, is required for survival, [authors Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis] say taxes, zoning ordinances and even age limits for purchasing certain sugar-laden products are all appropriate remedies for what they see as a not-so-sweet problem,” the Wall Street Journal’s “Health” blog writes (Hobson, 2/2).
Non Communicable Disease/Chronic Disease
Noting “there is a huge ‘cancer divide’ between rich and poor,” with more than half of new cancer cases and almost two-thirds of all cancer deaths occurring in developing countries, this year’s World Cancer Day theme, “Together It Is Possible,” “calls on all individuals, organizations and governments to do their part to reduce premature deaths from cancers by 25 percent by 2025,” Felicia Knaul, secretariat for the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries, and Jonathan Quick, president of Management Sciences for Health, write in a Huffington Post opinion piece. “But there have been four myths that have held back cancer care and control in developing countries,” they write.
“More people in developed countries are overweight or obese than ever before, dooming them to years of ill health, pushing up health care costs and piling more pressure on health systems, a report [.pdf] by the OECD found on Tuesday,” Reuters reports. Though the report found that obesity rates are diverse — “from a low of four percent in Japan and Korea to 30 percent or more in the United States and Mexico” – “in more than half of the 34 OECD countries, at least one in two people is now overweight or obese, and rates are projected to rise further,” according to the news agency.
This post in KPLU’s “Humanosphere” blog examines the “gap between the disease burden of mental illness and the amount of funding and attention devoted to solving the problem,” referencing a post published Friday in the Global Health Interest Forum’s “Blog of Scientists for Global Health,” written by Paul Southworth, a visiting scholar on malaria and vaccine science at the NIH. The blog provides a breakdown of the global burden of disease in terms of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) and notes, “As you can see from the pie chart, mental illness (aka ‘neuropsychiatric disorders’) is the biggest slice in the pie. Yet it is rarely even mentioned at global health meetings or confabs, says Southworth” (Paulson, 2/21).
A recently released OECD report (.pdf) “spells out the toll obesity can take on one’s health and on health care costs,” Indianapolis Star reporter Barb Berggoetz writes in this Star opinion piece, adding, “Obese people die on average eight to 10 years sooner than people at normal weight.” She notes that, according to the report, “[o]besity — responsible for between five to 10 percent of total health spending in the U.S. and one to three percent in most countries — will cause a rapid rise in health spending in coming years, as obesity related diseases set in.”
The “WHO should regulate alcohol at the global level, enforcing such regulations as a minimum drinking age, zero-tolerance drunken driving, and bans on unlimited drink specials,” Devi Sridhar, a lecturer in global health politics at the University of Oxford, argues in a commentary published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, Scientific American reports. “[A]lcohol kills more than 2.5 million people annually, more than AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis,” and it is a leading health concern for middle-income populations, “greater than obesity, inactivity and even tobacco,” according to the news service (Wanjek, 2/15).
“For mental health to gain significant attention, and funding from policymakers globally, it is not enough to convince people that it has a high disease burden but also that there are deliverable and cost-effective interventions — according to South African researchers writing in this week’s PLoS Medicine,” a PLoS press release reports, adding, “Mark Tomlinson and Crick Lund from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health based at the University of Cape Town argue that global mental health must demonstrate its social and economic impact.” According to the press release, the authors “discuss a framework to help understand why some global health initiatives are more successful in generating funding and political priority than others” (2/28).
In a statement released on Monday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said “[s]everal recent media articles are creating misinformation and confusion in the public health arena” by “erroneously suggesting that, in working to reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, WHO receives funding from the food and beverage industry,” the U.N. News Centre reports. Referring to an October 19 article by Reuters suggesting the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had accepted money from the industry and a similar November 1 piece by Mother Jones, Chan said, “The allegations in these articles are wrong,” and she added, “When WHO works with the private sector, the organization takes all possible measures to ensure its work to develop policy and guidelines is protected from industry influence,” the news service notes (11/19).
“Doctors were at the forefront of the AIDS treatment revolution a decade ago, denouncing stigmatization and inequality from conference platforms and lobbying politicians alongside the activists,” Guardian health editor Sarah Boseley writes in her “Global Health” blog, asking, “Could we see cancer doctors take up the banners and the slogans on behalf of the poorest in the same way?” She continues, “Until last weekend, I personally did not think so. But in a lakeside hotel in Lugano in Switzerland, at a meeting of the World Oncology Forum, I watched what looked like a process of radicalization take place.” She adds, “Nearly 100 of the world’s leading cancer doctors were there,” noting, “The question for discussion over a day and a half was ‘Are we winning the war on cancer?'”
WHO member states meeting in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday unanimously approved a new international treaty to combat the illegal tobacco trade, VOA News reports (11/12). “The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products commits countries to establishing, as a central measure, a global tracking and tracing system to reduce the illicit trade of tobacco products,” a WHO press release states (11/12). “I can think of no other undertaking that can make such a huge contribution to better health in every corner of the world. And that includes the health of young children and unborn babies,” WHO Executive Director Margaret Chan said at the opening of the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the U.N. News Centre reports. “Tobacco use is responsible for five million, or 12 percent, of all deaths of adults above the age of 30 globally each year — equivalent to one death every six seconds — noted a WHO mortality report released in March this year,” the news service adds (11/12).