With two-thirds of all premature deaths (before the age of 70 years) being caused by non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and strokes, understanding the causes and risk factors is a priority for public health policy makers.
To provide her expertise on these issues Professor Fiona Bull, UWA’s Director of the Centre of Build Environment and Health, was invited to speak at the 69th World Health Assembly (WHA) held in Geneva.
“The WHA is the world's highest health policy setting body, composed of health ministers from the United Nation’s 194 member states. The annual event is used to discuss and debate global health issues and determine what policies and programmes should be implemented by the World Health Organisation,” says Professor Bull.
“I contributed to two technical meetings both aimed at informing and engaging member states to reinforce their efforts and actions on physical activity and healthy eating to prevent chronic disease.
“The health costs associated with non-communicable diseases are huge and there is no one solution. There isn’t a drug you can take, but many different factors that play a role in encouraging people to be more active more regularly and eat well.”
Professor Bull says the greatest challenge facing public health is that solutions to these two issues are largely outside the sector.
“If you think about how to encourage greater physical activity, things that come to mind are creating cycle lanes and walkways, providing more green space for recreational activities and increasing the role of health education in schools.
“These solutions lie outside the health sector so we need to rethink traditional public health approaches that focus on health sector and figure out how to work much better with other sectors such as transport, education and sport to address these key issues effectively.”
Professor Bull says the sessions at this year’s WHA were the first step in a planned 12-month agenda to raise the profile of this global challenge.
The next key event is the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health to be held in Thailand this November, and next year Professor Bull will return to the WHA to help secure a resolution of action.
“These meetings may seem a long way away from the research undertaken in universities, but it is ultimately at these forums where global health policy is developed to guide all countries. Sharing the science and practice are important steps in attaining political commitment and funding required to deliver programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity.”