by Clare Farrand & Moritz Laqua
2015 has undoubtedly been a pivotal year for international development and the fight against NCDs in particular, as it has seen the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the UN General Assembly in September, followed by the Global NCD Alliance Forum in Sharjah UAE. For the first time, Goal 3 of the SDGs makes explicit mention of the fight against NCDs as a standalone target, thereby elevating and prioritizing NCD prevention and control within the public health community: By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.
The year behind us saw a new WHO guideline on sugar; recommending that both adults and children limit their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake with a further recommendation, for greater health benefits, to reduce sugar intake to less than 5% or roughly 30 grams (7 teaspoons) per day for an adult – this is the equivalent of a small glass of orange juice and a flavoured yoghurt. The recommendation for children is less: 24g/day for children aged 5-11 and of 19g/day for children aged 4-6.
In support, and with significant pressure from health advocates in the UK, Public Health England released its own sugar reduction report, commissioned by the Department of Health, to inform the Government’s childhood obesity strategy. Amongst its recommendations, including restricting marketing of junk foods to children, and reformulation of food products to contain less sugar is, of particular note, the introduction of a sugar tax, or ‘price increase’ of 10-20% on high sugar products.
In fact NHS hospitals are the first public body in the UK to impose their own sugar tax to sugary drinks – which could raise 20-40millions pounds a year.
Mexico has already reported the success of their national tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSB), which show a 17% reduction in purchases of SSB despite aggressive tactics use by the beverage industry such as the “Share a Coke” marketing campaign.
The results of this study provide a conclusive piece of evidence that regulations based on international recommendations and scientific evidence are essential to counter the current obesity and diabetes epidemic, and should be considered worldwide.
The US government, in its new version of the US dietary guidelines, also recommends less than 10% of intake from sugars. Though the dietary guidelines themselves have come under scrutiny.
For us in the Asia Pacific, our work is fuelled by the voices of people affected by NCDs. There has been a rapid increase in these diets and lifestyle related deaths and disease in the region, and obesity is a rising epidemic. Asia Pacific countries are at a further disadvantage as they are faced with continually poor access to healthcare services and policies that are meant to combat NCDs. We are in desperate need of strategies and clear programmes of work to prevent this largely avoidable death and disease burden, which has paralleled urbanisation and globalisation within the region. We need to create healthier food environments, and develop strategies to reduce salt and sugar consumption, particularly due to the notable shift towards eating more processed foods, like in western countries. Sustainable, cost-effective, population-wide interventions are needed to tackle this growing NCD burden.
Our mission is to work collaboratively, and to drive collective action across the public and private sector, though academia and civil society groups, to support strategies to save lives, and improve health outcomes.
This year we’ll be scaling up our efforts to advocate for change, as well as acting as a monitor for progress in the region, and increasing awareness of this important issue on the political stage. There is an opportunity to learn from other countries experience, and translate their success to the Asia Pacific region, a region much in need of support.
NCDAPA is dedicated to leading the regional fight against NCDs by facilitating regional coordination of stakeholders and multisectoral action at the local, national, regional, and global level. As pledged in the Sharjah Declaration, NCDAPA will further and advance civil society engagement and accountability efforts, while at the same time increasing NCD advocacy and visibility in order to help making 2016 a successful year in the fight against this deadly epidemic.