I’m headed back on the train from New York after an amazing experience at the UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) this week. (The four major NCDs are cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and lung disease.)
It’s been a whirlwind few days, from the numerous side events hosted by national and international health organizations to the actual Summit itself. It was impossible not to be impressed seeing so many individuals and health orgs mobilizing to press the case for global action now on NCDs.
I went to events hosted by the NCD Alliance, American College of Sports Medicine and the Pan-American Health Organization and sat in the UN Assembly for two sessions. It was gratifying to see cancer so well represented within the context of NCDs, especially by HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan. She spoke passionately, movingly, as the mother of a cancer survivor.
Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization was my own personal hero when she did not hesitate to denounce junk food as the worst way to fill hungry bellies here in the US and around the world.
Now, as we start to think, over these next few weeks and months, about how to make this call for action a reality, two things come to mind:
1. There’s been a lot of talk comparing this nascent movement to the AIDS movement, but that seems far too simplistic. Each NCD has its own complexities – look at cancer alone, which is not one disease but many. Once you put cancer alongside heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, and then add in complex environmental issues like access to medication, the built environment, transportation options, access to open spaces to engage in physical activity — well, you get the picture.
2. There is no getting around how central a role the food and beverage industry plays in this issue.
Does this mean I don’t believe good things will come from this historic event?
No, I do think the UN Summit represents a huge breakthrough, and it was a privilege to be there. I learned about the huge strides that are already been taken in many countries. We just need to keep the momentum going — which means keeping the pressure on government, industry, individuals (and on ourselves as a cancer research and education organization as well) — to make real, meaningful change finally happen.
Clearly, this is only the beginning. Here’s a link to AICR’s Advocacy and Policy page, where you can keep up to date with what AICR and World Cancer Research Fund International are doing to make sure cancer prevention stays at the top of the national and global health agenda.