Yesterday the United Nations launched a two-day, high level general assembly meeting to tackle our greatest health threat: not AIDS, not malaria, not the Ebola virus, not anything that you can prevent with a vaccine. The greatest threat to our physical and economic health is “noncommunicable diseases” (NCDs). We’re talking about diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
The consensus among the world’s scientific community is that rather than die before we are 60 from a heart-attack or complications from diabetes, by making the right lifestyle choices (read: no smoking, cut fat, cut sugars, limit alcohol, exercise, eat more plant-based foods) we can delay the inevitable and live long and healthy lives.
NCDs were once thought of as “diseases of affluence,” but our poor lifestyle choices have spread across the globe and are now affecting even poor nations. Here’s the really sad part: as Americans, the majority of us can afford to combat lung cancer when our cigarette habit turns into malignant tumors; people living in poverty cannot.
I read one article that said the biggest challenge to combating NCDs is “fatalism,” and I think that’s right. How many times have I heard someone say that they are not going to eat a healthier diet or exercise, because no matter what they do they are going to die. So why not enjoy every meal and every minute on the couch?
Why not? Because when you face your own mortality, I promise you that you are going to wish you had more time.
The only way to combat NCDs is through campaigning and regulation. Do you really need the government to tell you to eat more vegetables and fruits and less wings and fries?