Press release

UK minister calls for tough international action on obesity, smoking and cancer

In a speech at the United Nations, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has called for governments across the world to work collectively to tackle the rising tide of lifestyle-related diseases.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Addressing members of the United Nations General Assembly, who had convened to discuss the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, he set out that international action is needed to make real progress against cancer, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes through collective international action to curb tobacco consumption and reduce alcohol abuse.

Just as previous worldwide efforts have saved millions of lives through programmes to eradicate communicable diseases such as smallpox and polio, Andrew Lansley told the meeting that the current generation’s greatest health challenges stem from the causes of ill-health, such as poor diet and environments, lack of exercise and changing lifestyles.  Key to change must be tackling the causes of health inequalities. He called for a “whole government” approach and for a determination to tackle the social determinants of health, and a focus on prevention of the risk factors leading to non-communicable diseases.

Speaking in New York, Andrew Lansley said:

“More than half a century ago, our predecessors came together to tackle infectious diseases: the greatest health challenges of their day. Today, we face new challenges from obesity, lung disease and alcohol-related diseases. These are inextricably linked to the way we live our lives. They are just as widespread, just as chronic and increasingly threaten early mortality and disability.

“We need a bold and determined ‘whole government’ approach looking at better outcomes and helping individuals to make better choices about their own health. With an emphasis on prevention, on physical activity, on personal and corporate responsibility and with unified government action, we can make a big difference.

“I hope that in decades to come, our successors will look back and see that now was when the tide began to turn, that with progress and development, came not only opportunity and increased life expectancy, but healthy life expectancy.”

Notes to editors

1. The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is attending the UN conference on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) on 19th and 20th September. At the conference, delegates are seeking to secure an appropriate and representative global response focusing on prevention and health system strengthening. They will sign a declaration setting out this agreement. Further information can be found on the United Nations website.

2. The role of Government is to bring together key partners to help and support people to make healthier choices. Later in the year, we will be publishing a document on obesity that will set out how obesity will be tackled in the new public health and NHS systems, and the role of key partners.  

3. A single outcomes framework places the emphasis on prevention, gives medical professionals and government officials the freedom and the resources to achieve these outcomes and empowers individuals to take charge of their own health. Change4Life encourages people to make simple changes, such as eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting down on fatty foods and being more active. 

4. As part of our new approach, the Government will consider what can be achieved through voluntary approaches.  Through the Public Health Responsibility Deal, the Government has been working with businesses and other organisations to help the public live healthier lives:

* food producers are removing transfats and reducing the levels of salt in their food;
* drinks companies are reducing the amount of alcohol in some of their drinks; and
* restaurants are publishing the number of calories in their meals.

Published 20 September 2011