Diseases linked to our way of life are growing, in every country of the world. Poor nutrition, smoking, insufficient exercise are all to blame for conditions that are straining health systems ever more. Even if decisions are taken at the top to stop this advance, how can such efforts be implemented, paid for and made genuinely effective? Experts in different domains laid out their views at Biovision 2013.
(Flickr / cattisb)
How do you begin to face a problem that acts on the level of the individual, but that is reaching global proportions? At the end of March, Biovision 2013 brought together leaders in research, industry and politics to search for solutions to (among other things) a problem that is growing in severity and quickly surpassing our ability to rein it in: lifestyle diseases. These include obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, osteoporosis, and others that can be blamed on our diet, habits, and physical activity (or lack thereof…). As discussed last week on MyScienceWork, several Biovision participants called for strong leadership from the top, to offer guidance and structure the whole way down. The question remains, though, of how to fund such efforts and how to make sure they reach the people they are designed to help.
Having affirmed that the UN is in a good position to coordinate a global confrontation of lifestyle diseases, Cary Adams head of the Union for International Cancer Control,offered that these “non-communicable diseases are quite different, because a lot of the causes are taxable. We’ve seen that increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol does affect consumption. So, the government has the ability to raise funds for research from the causes themselves.”
, of the and moderator of the session, believes there are lessons to be learned from the green economy. “Green products have created their own market. First of all, because they’ve become cheaper, but also because of their natural appeal. Health also has a natural appeal” that will attract consumers to it of their own volition.
This is the kind of reflection with practical applications that social sciences can bring to the table. In fact, Ambroise Martin, chair of the European Food Safety Authority’s panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies, calls for a multidisciplinary approach to modifying lifestyles. This should include contributions from fields like psychology, economy and sociology.
These disciplines may have their biggest impact on the lowest, but arguably most significant, layer of actors able to halt the advance of lifestyle diseases: the individual. Suchila Chang, of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, reminds us that “half the world is illiterate. They don’t know what causes lifestyle disease. But everyone has the right to be aware.” She calls for education from a very young age, using what we know from other domains to make an impact. We know that industry, for example, already has successful advertising strategies for targeting these groups. When time is of the essence, we need to cut across disciplines to take advantage of knowledge and tactics that already exist.
Marc Salomon’s parting words were a reminder to other health professionals that “the patient is more capable of managing their own health than you believe.” Massoud Toussi, Medical Director at IMS Health France, had given much the same advice earlier in the day, when speaking about the diabetes epidemic: “I would suggest engagement of patients. We don’t need to just give them recommendations, we need to engage them in the decision making process.” Patients, especially of chronic diseases, often know their bodies and their condition better than anyone. “We need to know how to interact with them. We’ve often proved that patients are right and guidelines are wrong.”
That is one solution that could cost little to nothing to begin putting in place: doctors exchanging with patients about their own health in meaningful ways. That means listening to, trusting and involving the only people who can truly make the changes necessary to avert a largely preventable global health crisis.
Find out more:
Can the UN change your life?
Neuromarketing Tools for (Neuro)public Health
Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, The Lancet, 31 December 2012
Lifestyle-linked diseases continue to increase globally