Chronic Diseases Represent Biggest Challenge in Public Health: Experts

  • 22 January 2014

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a major problem globally that threatens the future generation and the world’s economy if nothing is done today.

“Chronic diseases represent the biggest challenge in public health, now and in the future …The prevalence of obesity, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, the increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some types of cancer, are phenomena that are linked in most cases,” said Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, at the opening of the first Arabian Gulf Public Health Research Conference in the Capital on Tuesday.

Dr Wayne Holden, president and CEO of Research Triangle Institute (RTI) from the US, said that over the next one to two decades, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that between $30 and $40 trillion dollars will be spent to address chronic diseases - more than half of the current GDP worldwide.

According to Professor Kenneth LaBresh, senior fellow from RTI, NCD is a particular problem in the Gulf region with people dying between the ages of 30 and 70 years. “Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of this premature death caused by heart disease and stroke,” he stated.

Highlighting the economic burden of obesity in the region, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, former assistant undersecretary for preventive medicine at the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH), cited a study McKinsey and Company, which showed that from $12 billion spent in 2006 on obesity, this is expected to increase to about $60 billion in 2025 as a result of lower productivity, absence from work and school and those spent on medical treatment.

“Obesity is the most important factor causing NCD. From 2025, we’ll see an increase in world obesity. This epidemic is increasing, from 2005 till 2030 there will be an increase of 50 per cent… the number is increasing because we are not solving the problem,” he pointed out.

He noted that in 2008, between 25 and 50 per cent of children in the GCC from five to 17 years were overweight while 13-50 per cent were obese.

And these rates are increasing every five years, especially among females.In the UAE, obesity among the younger population is a common problem due to lack of physical activity, “39 per cent of children in the UAE suffer from overweight and 15 per cent suffered from obesity in 2010… Only 26 per cent of children exercise more than 60 minutes in schools while others don’t have any physical activity,” Dr Fikri said.

Citing a school health survey carried out by MoH-WHO in 2005 and 2010, he said that obesity among the same study group increased from 12 per cent in 2005 to 15 per cent in 2010.

“This meant that the percentage is rising among children. Another problem is it is intensifying; students who previously did physical activity are decreasing because they are overweight,” he pointed out.

Commenting on the panel discussion, Dr Mariam Al Jalahma, assistant undersecretary for primary care and public health in the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Bahrain, said there is a unified plan to control NCDs in the GCC region, which has already been approved by the GCC leaders and is now passed to the WHO.

“The plan is to convert it to a national plan per country and will include anti-tobacco law, healthier food options, exercise and reduction of salt intake,” she remarked.