Chasing healthy growth:Taiwan and America’s shared challenge

17-Dec-2016 Intellasia | China Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Governments worldwide remain vigilant in their focus on infectious diseases such as dengue fever, cholera, malaria and Zika or on dangers that could potentially return, like the SARS virus that struck Hong Kong more than a dozen years ago starting in March 2003. Yet collaboration and commitment are also necessary in the face of a growing, “non-infectious” threat to the economic health and well-being of the region – which includes Taiwan – and of America.

That threat is the rise of so-called “lifestyle diseases.” Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease are now the shared challenge of both Taiwan and the United States – and of many developing and developed nations. Changing diets and increasingly urbanised and sedentary lives are driving an increase in the prevalence of such noncommunicable diseases globally, even as there is success in meeting past health challenges.

That threat is the rise of so-called “lifestyle diseases.” Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease are now the shared challenge of both Taiwan and the United States – and of many developing and developed nations. Changing diets and increasingly urbanised and sedentary lives are driving an increase in the prevalence of such noncommunicable diseases globally, even as there is success in meeting past health challenges.

Asia’s developing nations have reduced mortality rates over the last 30 years as public health experts have focused on infectious disease. Child mortality rates are down. More mothers are surviving childbirth, as are their infants. People are living longer in India and in mainland China, which representing the vast majority of Asia’s population.

These and other places, however, must focus too on lifestyle-related health worries. World Health Organization data show dramatic increases in diabetes and heart disease as Asia has grown richer. Even the region’s poorest nations, such as Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan, are seeing lifestyle diseases take their toll.

A recent report of the Milken Institute, where I serve as that non-partisan economic think tank’s first Asia Fellow, makes clear that poor nutrition and obesity pose a severe public health challenge across large parts of Asia, taxing public health systems and posing significant risks for future generations.

WHO data underscore the challenge. According to a March 2016 report, the number of adults living with diabetes globally has increased to 422 million from 108 million in 1980. The western Pacific region, including mainland China and Japan, now accounts for 131 million of that number.

Diabetes is expected to be the world’s seventh largest killer by 2030 if present trends continue without interventions.

Diabetes is expected to be the world’s seventh largest killer by 2030 if present trends continue without interventions.

While 60 percent of US, British and even Australian adults are now classified as overweight, developing Asia has some fairly heavyweight concerns of its own. In Southeast Asia, Malaysia leads with some 37 percent deemed overweight. Thailand follows with some 31.6 percent, according to the WHO.

Some 34 percent of mainland Chinese adults are deemed overweight. And both mainland China and Malaysia have also now surpassed the US when it comes to the percentage suffering from diabetes.

According to 2015 data from the International Diabetes Federation, some 10 percent of Taiwan adults suffer from diabetes. The battle against the bulge has also come to Taiwan as childhood obesity also has emerged as an issue.

Governments, business and development banks and aid agencies have helped reduce the spread of infectious diseases by addressing Asia’s infrastructure shortcomings – including a lack of sufficient water supply, sanitation and waste management systems. Now, they must partner to address the growing lifestyle disease challenge.

Public health education will play a critical role in helping both Taiwan’s and the United States’ consumers understand the consequences on their health of changing eating habits and reduced exercise and physical activity. Good nutrition must be made both accessible and understandable.

Businesses also must take more responsibility for the health consequences of their products and services. Restaurants and food providers voluntarily offering calorie information and smaller portion options will also be to the benefit of responsible businesses, possibly forestalling costly government mandates and labeling requirements.

Among the United Nations’ 17 new Sustainable Development Goals is a target of ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages. Ultimately. Meeting this healthy lifestyle goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must include cutting through the roadblocks that slow medical progress and improved health care results.

Impacting health outcomes will require the spurring of cross-sector collaboration, cultivating a culture of innovation and engaging patients as partners in their own care.

Medical research as well as the delivery of health care can be complex, inefficient, and underfunded. In both the United States and Taiwan, leaders in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors must embrace a policy approach that speeds a more effective response to both infectious and lifestyle diseases. Doing so will contribute to greater prosperity and healthier economic growth.

Curtis S. Chin, a former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC.

http://www.chinapost.com.tw/commentary/china-post/special-/2016/12/16/486810/Chasing-healthy.htm

 


Category: Taiwan

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