Taking stock of the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs

28 September 2018 | Policy

Our Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Fiona Sing, represented World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International at the United Nations High Level Meeting (UN HLM) on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in New York yesterday. Here are her reflections on this historic event. 

The UN HLM on NCDs in New York this week brought together in one place many stakeholders concerned with global health, to discuss the main barriers and opportunities for reaching the Global NCD targets and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

State of play – where we are now

It was a moment in history that should have capitalised on the political spotlight and priority given to the issue of NCDs during this one-day political discussion, and make some real change. So, did the UN HLM on NCDs live up to expectations?  In summary, this is what the NCD movement achieved this week:

Not so civil

Civil society organisations (CSOs) did a great job of dropping their ‘civil’ image, and called out:

  • The poor performance of countries in tackling the NCD problem, despite multiple high-level meetings and plenty of technical guidance on what is needed. 
  • The commercial determinants of NCDs and the woeful lack of control of industry interference, with a missed opportunity to introduce robust accountability measures and governance mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest.
  • The inability of Member States to commit to anything robust or meaningful with the Political Declaration – missing the opportunity that the UN HLM presented to shift the NCD landscape seismically. 

So now what? What would make the missed opportunity and effort put into the lead-up to the UN HLM even more disappointing? Resting on our laurels and letting the glacial pace of progress continue until the next UN HLM on NCDs – which has a proposed date of 2025.

Thankfully, CSOs have no intention of letting that happen. The biggest advocacy opportunities for the future exist in bridging the gap between the reports and data presented by CSOs and the WHO this week, and the lacklustre Political Declaration. 

What will WCRF International do?

It is clear that CSOs need to turn their focus to supporting governments to implement evidence- informed policies, instead of waiting for political declarations and HLMs to build momentum.

WCRF International will focus on continuing to expand our work, providing policymakers with the tools necessary to implement robust policies to reduce NCDs in the following ways: 

  • Our NOURISHING framework which outlines ten areas where governments need to take action and is accompanied by a policy database. We will continue to grow this database of food policy actions which helps governments implement policies across the framework.  
  • The new Building Momentum series. We believe that developing and implementing evidence-informed nutrition policies is essential to tackle the growing burden caused by diet-related NCDs such as cancer. The first report in our series equips policymakers with overarching guidance on how to design a robust sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax. Our second report will focus on front-of-pack nutrition labels and will be launched in November 2018. The third report will focus on marketing to children and is due to be launched in May 2019.
  • WCRF International is one of 13 partners in the European Commission Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme project, CO-CREATE. This project aims to reduce childhood obesity in Europe by developing nutrition and physical activity policies in collaboration with young people to ensure they are engaged in the policy process.WCRF International is tasked with developing a new physical activity policy framework and accompanying policy database for physical activity, and then ranking countries against a policy benchmark to assess their overall policy environments. 

The UNHLM is over, but the work cannot stop. Governments need support in implementing evidence-informed policy actions to reduce diet-related NCDs. WCRF International has had enough of NCDs, and has a renewed sense of energy to tackle NCDs head on.   

  • Find out more about our Policy and Public affairs work here.
Fiona Sing | 28 September 2018

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