Updated 03 September 2013

SA to tackle chronic lifestyle diseases

Department of Health to aggressively address heart disease, cancer and a host of other diseases as part of a four-year plan to curb chronic conditions.

The National Department of Health has taken aim at the food industry, the health sector, the media and other stakeholders, urging all parties to work together to improve the health profile of the country.

In order to curb the scourge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in South Africa, the National Department of Health will strategically address the four most significant risk factors over the next four years: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol use and tobacco use.

Professor Melvyn Freeman from the Department made the Government’s Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-2017 public at a Health Journalism Symposium in Grahamstown on Saturday.

Freeman emphasised that Government, industry, the health sector and the media should work closely together to curb these chronic conditions, which include heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and mental illness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that globally, between 2006 and 2015, NCD deaths will increase by 17%, and the greatest increase will be seen in the African region (27%). Healthy lifestyle is the key to the prevention of approximately 80% of NCDs.

Advertising of junk food targeted

In September 2011, the Minister and Deputy-Minister of Health hosted a summit on the prevention and control of NCDs. The summit accepted key principles for reducing these conditions in South Africa through setting ten targets to be reached by 2020. The newly launched Strategic Plan provides direction for achieving these targets.

Part of the Government's plan is to reduce the advertising of junk food to children during child-related TV time, while another part is to not only tax "undesirable processed foods" but to also exempt healthier foods from taxation. The aim is to eventually reduce one of the risk factors for non-communicable diseases by encouraging and enabling people to eat more nutritious foods.

Though NCDs are often referred to as diseases of lifestyle, and associated with increased wealth, the prevalence of these conditions is high among rural and poor socio-economic communities in South Africa. Therefore addressing poverty and inequality are as important for reducing disease numbers. For example, stroke as a result of hypertension is strongly linked to poverty due to late diagnosis and poor access to health care in rural areas.

The Strategic Plan requires much cooperation between Government departments if they are to work. The Departments of Health, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and Basic Education, as well as the Treasury will work together as will the Departments of Sport and Recreation, Transport, Education and Human Settlements.


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