WHOchief calls for a bal­anced gov­ern­ment pol­icy ap­proach

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A bal­ance must be struck be­tween trade in­ter­ests and the well-be­ing of the peo­ple if health is to be pos­i­tively in­flu­enced by gov­ern­ment pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Mar­garet Chan.

For in­stance, she said that while all for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment might look at­trac­tive, if such in­vest­ment comes from a to­bacco com­pany or fast-food chain it could be detri­men­tal to peo­ple’s health in the long run.

Un­der such cir­cum­stances, “the gov­ern­ment should look at all the ev­i­dence and make a po­lit­i­cal choice with the right poli­cies”, she said, on the side­lines of the on­go­ing Ninth Global Con­fer­ence on Health Pro­mo­tion, which con­cludes on Thurs­day.

InChina’s case, with the State monopolyon to­bacco, the gov­ern­ment doesn’t al­low for­eign cig­a­rettes into the coun­try, but im­ported fast food has al­ready made its ef­fects felt.

Re­search by the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham in the United King­dom found that about 25 per­cent of preschool chil­dren in China are at risk of be­ing over­weight or even obese.

“The health of the peo­ple should not be sac­ri­ficed for profit,” said Chan, adding that although busi­ness in­ter­ests might ar­gue that it is an in­di­vid­ual’s choice whether they eat junk food or smoke, “that’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case, at least for chil­dren”.

The WHO ad­vo­cates bar­ring the mar­ket­ing of un­healthy food prod­ucts to chil­dren, and govern­ments must strike a bal­ance be­tween giv­ing adults a choice of food­stuffs and pro­tect­ing those who are younger and more im­pres­sion­able, she added.

Chan’s com­ments re­flect the spirit of the Shang­hai Dec­la­ra­tion on Health Pro­mo­tion, which was en­dorsed by more than 1,000 par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing city may­ors and min­is­ters, at the con­fer­ence.

The doc­u­ment rec­og­nizes govern­ments’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure peo­ple’s right to health and the im­por­tance of mul­ti­sec­toral col­lab­o­ra­tion for health pro­mo­tion.

“The lead­er­ship of all coun­tries must bal­ance eco­nomic growth and peo­ple’s health,” said Chan, adding that health is the cor­ner­stone of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

She wel­comed the re­cent strong com­mit­ment by China’s lead­er­ship to pri­or­i­tize the pop­u­la­tion’s health.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping put health at the cen­ter of the coun­try’s en­tire pol­icy-mak­ing ma­chin­ery when he made it of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment pol­icy to in­clude a con­sid­er­a­tion of health in all poli­cies at the Na­tional Health Con­fer­ence in Au­gust.

“This is a very sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment and very few coun­tries have done that,” said Chan, point­ing to how China’s health­care sec­tor now works in tan­dem with the en­vi­ron­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, trans­port, and ur­ban plan­ning de­part­ments, among oth­ers.

This re­sults in greater im­por­tance be­ing at­tached to fac­tors such as clean air, safe wa­ter and food, and sports fa­cil­i­ties, she said.

How­ever, Chan urged im­me­di­ate ac­tion to tackle the ris­ing tide of chronic dis­eases in China, such as di­a­betes. About 20 per­cent of Chi­nese adults are di­a­betic and 490 mil­lion have ab­nor­mally high blood sugar lev­els, a pre­cur­sor to the dis­ease known as pre­di­a­betes, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics.

“It’s a cru­cial time for the gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce in­ter­ven­tions, par­tic­u­larly for pre­di­a­betes,” she said. “I’m Chi­nese, so health progress here is im­por­tant to me on an in­di­vid­ual level.”


Dr Mar­garet Chan at the con­fer­ence in Shang­hai.

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