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Ministers of Health of the Americas agree that promoting physical activity is a key policy for preventing noncommunicable diseases

New York, 18 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) — Physical activity is one of the foundations for the prevention of noncommunicable diseases and must be integrated into health policy, agreed health authorities from Aruba, Brazil, the United States, and Peru at an event held on the eve of the United Nations High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

From 19 to 20 September, authorities from all over the world will be gathering at the United Nations to discuss how to reduce the impact of noncommunicable diseases. NCDs include cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and chronic respiratory diseases and represent the leading cause of death in the world today, with three out of four people in the Americas suffering from one of these ailments.

The event “Physical Activity and Noncommunicable Diseases: Seizing the Opportunity, Building Tomorrow,” organized by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the American College of Sports Medicine, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)/WHO Collaborating Center on Physical Activity brought health authorities together to discuss the importance of physical activity in the prevention of chronic noncommunicable diseases.

Dr. Regina Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States, explained that noncommunicable diseases are a major public health problem and a burden on the economy. Obesity is one of the diseases with the highest burden in the United States, especially among children and in the African-American and Hispanic populations, she stated, referring among other things to the “Let’s Move” initiative, spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Advocating environments where healthy foods are the most readily available and least expensive options, Dr. Benjamin declared that we must include health in our policies, which implies working on integrated policies with other sectors.

The Minister of Health of Peru, Carlos Alberto Tejada, said that he had accompanied the Peruvian Government’s mission to the United Nations “with the clear idea of lending support to this meeting” on noncommunicable diseases. Involvement in addressing these diseases and their prevention, through physical activity for example, should begin with the political authorities, he stated, explaining that “Muévete Perú,” [Get moving, Peru] the first item on his agenda, seeks to promote physical activity jointly with different sectors of society.

“We have gotten the President, ministers, and authorities involved in advocacy across the Andes and enlisted the efforts of other organizations interested in promoting physical activity,” he noted. “Physical activity is being approached from a health, rather than a disease, standpoint,” assured the Minister. “We are striving not to see only the curative approach to health”, he added.

Dr. Richard Visser, Minister of Health and Sports of Aruba, talked about Aruba’s battle against noncommunicable diseases, highlighting the use of eHealth for prevention, and announced that a guide to healthy food will be issued promote healthy eating habits.

In Aruba, he said, the noncommunicable disease burden was having an adverse impact on health costs. He commented that little work used to be done in prevention, so efforts were under way to encourage prevention throughout the  lifecourse. The minister remarked that sports are “the first thing to disappear when there are no funds and the last to receive funds when they are available.”

“We are attacking all the problems of noncommunicable diseases together. We must engage in their joint prevention to maximize efforts,” he stated.

Dr. Deborah Carvalho, National Coordinator of Noncommunicable Diseases in the Ministry of Health of Brazil, noted that since 2005, Brazil has invested millions of dollars in programs that promote physical activity. “Brazil is tackling the problem of noncommunicable diseases and keeping apace with global efforts to fight these diseases,” she declared.

The representative of Colombia’s Ministry of Social Promotion, Dr. Ramírez, stated that his country has committed to promoting physical activity in every setting. He recounted the programs that have been implemented with that objective, with the idea of transforming environments to generate a culture that makes health promotion possible.

James Hospedales, Senior Adviser on Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases, PAHO/WHO, pointed out that the initiative to hold the United Nations High-level Meeting began in the Caribbean. He stated that by convening the United Nations General Assembly to discuss this issue, a successful step had already been taken against these diseases, but that new challenges lie ahead. Regarding the event, Dr. Hospedales noted that people tend to start exercising once they are already sick and that it is important to promote new, integrated policies to encourage physical activity before the fact.

Continuing along this line, Carlos Santos-Burgoa, Senior Adviser on Violence, Injuries and Human Security, from Mexico, stated that efforts should be made to create environments favorable to exercise. He explained that that this should happen in the home and when moving from place to place, because it is a natural activity. He added that the physical and social environment should encourage people to exercise and that PAHO/WHO is committed to supporting countries that need its collaboration to make those changes.

 

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