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Addiction editorial:

Alcohol and Non-Communicable Diseases

An editorial in the January 2011 issue of the journal Addiction argues that alcohol should be included when a special High Level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly will discuss Non-Communicable Diseases in September 2011.

Addiction, one of the leading journals in its field, points to the strengthened evidence of alcohol’s role in cancer, and alcohol also being important in other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). The editorial, written by Professors Robin Room and Jürgen Rehm, points out that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, already in 1988 found out that “alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans”. In 2007 the list of cancers impacted by alcohol was enlarged.

Alcohol is connected with other non-communicable diseases as well. The connection with liver disease is well known, still alcohol-attributable deaths both from cancer and cardiovascular disease are larger in numbers.
Room and Rehm points out that the UN has agreed to convene a ‘high-level meeting’ (involving heads of state) of the UN General Assembly on the prevention and control of NCDs in September 2011. Many actors, including the newly formed Global NCD Alliance, consisting of four large NGOs: the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the World Heart Federation, the International Diabetes Federation, and the International Union against Tuberculosis, are pushing for recognition of the importance of NCDs in global health. The NCD Alliance seeks to amend or transcend the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) so that as much attention is given to NCDs as to infectious diseases.
Four risk factors for NCDs are widely accepted and include in the World Health Organization (WHO) work in this field. They are tobacco, alcohol, diet and lack of physical exercise. The editorial points out that the shifting of the NCD discussion to the UN level is an important initiative to support in its own right, one which sets precedents for the future about the handling of preventative health policies at the international level. Given the epidemiological evidence, it is important to ensure that alcohol issues are included and discussed on a prominent basis in the coming discussions and planning concerning the prevention of NCDs, the two editors argue.