The session “Science of healthy living” organised by the United European Gastroenterology (UEG) explored the status quo of associations between unhealthy lifestyles – mainly nutrition – and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially cancer. Moreover, the speakers discussed the measures needed to make healthier options the easiest choice for people.
High sugar consumption is as harmful as high alcohol consumption. High intake of alcohol, sugar, and fat is associated with a higher risk of NCDs, like cancer. Ultra-processed food like soft drinks and hamburgers are a major source of added sugar, high energy dense foods, and low nutritional value. Consumption has increased dramatically worldwide with up to 50 – 60% of total daily energy intake in high income countries. Often risk factors coexist. Especially people with a low socioeconomic status and children show unhealthy lifestyles. Every third child is already overweight or obese. The COVID-19 crisis, with its impact on employment, bares the risk of a downward spiral in health behaviour – but there is good news: one third of cancer diagnosis could be prevented by adherence to healthy diet, normal weight, and regular physical activity.
What are the main ingredients to make the healthier decision, the easier one for individuals?
Against the background of the health literacy concept, measures must be taken at an individual level, i.e. people must be motivated and empowered to make healthier choices and the (health) system can support this by creating an enabling environment.
Awareness and information campaigns can be a first step to work towards informed lifestyle decisions, as well as nutrition labelling. However, knowing what`s healthy does not help, if quality food is a question of money. Fiscal and pricing interventions here are for example taxations, minimum unit pricing, and subsidies. Healthcare services and professionals can support preventive measures through screening and health promotion measures such as multi-component lifestyle interventions (diet, physical activity).
COVID-19 shows us the fragility of the healthcare system and consequences for the treatment of NCDs (late diagnosis, delayed or interrupted diagnosis). It is therefore important to prevent NCDs, especially since the crisis has increased behavioural risk factors for NCDs. Therefore, COVID-19 can be regarded as a wake-up call to join forces to take actions! It’s not too late to meet the SDG 3.4. aiming at reducing premature mortality from NCDs through prevention and treatment by one-third.
This blog was written by a Young Gasteiner Daniela Rojatz.