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Health charities say ‘bold action’ needed to prevent UK from missing preventable death goal

A quarter of a million people in the UK will die early from preventable health conditions by 2025 but that coordinated action could save lives above and beyond the WHO target, according to the Living Longer, Living Well report written by the Richmond Group of health charities.

The report has found that the UK is not on target to meet the World Health Organisation’s goal of reducing avoidable deaths from non-communicable diseases by 25% by 2025.  The non-communicable diseases that are the most prevalent include coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease, arthritis and dementia. Equally the deaths caused by these conditions can be significantly reduced by addressing risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and physical inactivity.

Despite the alarming figures in the report, the charities say that with ‘bold action’ and a coordinated approach, the number of lives saved could not only meet the WHO goal but exceed it.  The report found that 1.12 million years lost to disability will be avoided if we meet the target, with the biggest gains coming from a reduction in Type 2 diabetes.

Peter Scarborough, lead author of the report said ‘In recent years we have seen great improvements in cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic disease rates, thanks to both improvements in treatment healthier lifestyle choices. However we see a worrying increase in obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and there is much more that we could achieve to improve population diets and physical activity levels.’

The study identified 12 national policy interventions which, if implemented, could significantly reduce both deaths and disability caused by the most prevalent long-term health conditions.

Modelling for four of these interventions demonstrates how many lives could be saved over a 10 year period if implemented.

  • The mandatory reformulation of packaged food to reduce sugar and salt levels and decrease portion sizes could prevent 114,000 years lived with disability.
  • Increasing tobacco tax at above 5% inflation rather than the current 2% could save 2,450 lives.
  • 11,600 deaths could be avoided if physical activity support was delivered through GP surgeries.
  • 78,000 deaths could be delayed or avoided if alcohol marketing was further restricted.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England commented that ‘the [report’s] evidence on how to help people cut down on sugar proposes a control on marketing, advertising and promotions of high sugar products and reducing sugar in food and drink’.

The report’s findings on reformulation are particularly relevant for Type 2 diabetes due to its impact on obesity – the single biggest risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes. 11.9 million people in the UK – 1 in 4 adults – are currently at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes due to being overweight or obese.

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