Around the world, factors as common as the air we breathe and the food we eat have led to skyrocketing levels of noncommunicable diseases, which account for nearly three in four deaths worldwide—most of them preventable. At Vital Strategies, we engage with partners at all levels to influence policy and highlight the hazards that trigger the most common killers—cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases. Vital Strategies and its partners achieved many country-level victories in 2022: Among them, actions that will lead to cleaner air in Nairobi and Jakarta, and, in Brazil, introduction of front-of-package warning labels on foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
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Vital is also part of the global conversation on noncommunicable diseases, and the main culprits behind the global NCD epidemic: consumption of tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed foods and as well as polluted air and environmental toxins. Our goal is to be in the room when the most important of these conversations happen at the United Nations in New York and the World Health Assembly in Geneva—to ensure that global commitments reflect the evidence-based priorities we know can prevent NCDs. We also work to ensure that the industries that profit from products detrimental to public health are monitored and prevented from taking over the conversation.
In 2022, Vital Strategies made several contributions at the global policy level, starting with its engagement at the 75th World Health Assembly, where we hosted a side event on building momentum for reducing unhealthy diets to prevent NCDs. There, we addressed an international audience in Geneva to draw attention to the role of ultra-processed food in 12 million preventable deaths every year, making junk food even deadlier than tobacco. Vital Strategies also supported the World Health Assembly’s focus on oral health by endorsing its statement and publishing a blog: Oral Health: A window into the prevention of NCDs.
Throughout 2022, Vital Strategies contributed to a number of other global actions focused on NCD prevention. These included:
- Vital Strategies was actively engaged in updating Appendix 3 of the World Health Organization’s “Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) 2013–2030,” also known as the NCD Best Buys. These are proven, cost-effective interventions that have a profoundly positive impact on the health of populations—especially by limiting the effects of the leading drivers of noncommunicable diseases. A strong believer in the value of the WHO Best Buys to reverse the growing global disease burden, Vital Strategies—alone and as part of the NCD Alliance—submitted comments and critiques aimed at making these interventions even stronger. Vital Strategies highlighted the urgent need to incorporate interventions that counter the burden of air pollution, limit exposure to secondhand smoke, and adopt international standards to help consumers easily identify unhealthy food products.
- STOP’s #CigarettesArePlastics campaign: Cigarette filters contain plastic and are the most littered item on Earth. Vital Strategies is advocating for their inclusion in a potentially groundbreaking new treaty to eliminate global plastic pollution. In late November 2022, Vital Strategies delivered a statement to the UN Global Plastics Treaty conference on our stand.
To coincide with the negotiations, the global tobacco industry watchdog STOP launched #CigarettesArePlastics—a digital campaign that brings awareness to the massive environmental harm caused by the plastic in cigarette filters. STOP, in which Vital is a partner, led the campaign in partnership with Action on Smoking and Health. This advocacy appears to be gaining traction; tobacco filters were brought up several times during the conference, including by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in a written submission. They were widely seen as the perfect example of a single-use plastic that are—problematic, toxic and unnecessary. #CigarettesArePlastics is seeing significant infographic downloads.
- SAFER Initiative and RESET Alcohol: Vital Strategies collaborates with WHO and other partners on the implementation of the global SAFER Initiative to reduce the health and economic harms of alcohol consumption. Providing guidance for alcohol policy, SAFER includes a technical package that outlines high-impact strategies that governments can adopt to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and related health, social and economic consequences. As an outgrowth of our work on SAFER, Vital Strategies is leading a new international consortium to change the conversation about alcohol policy. RESET Alcohol was launched in 2022. This initiative brings together national governments, civil society, research organizations, and global leaders in public health and alcohol policy to develop and implement evidence-based alcohol policies, with a primary policy focus on increasing alcohol taxes. You can read more about this new initiative here.
In 2022 Vital Strategies’ global work also included:
- A brief that STOP submitted to the U.N. General Assembly on identifying and avoiding tobacco industry influence on U.N. organizations and events;
- A VitalTalks panel about the influence of industries that harm health, coinciding with the 77th regular session of the U.N. General Assembly;
- Four podcasts on issues related to global NCDs, including:
- Two Vital Stories blog posts on global NCD-related topics
- Oral health: A window into the prevention of NCDs
- Three Things to Watch for at the 75th World Health Assembly
- Eight international sign-on statements. Vital Strategies made its contribution to multiple international statements related to diet and nutrition and environmental health, as well as alcohol and tobacco industry interference. Included among them:
- Vital signed onto Action on Smoking and Health’s “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Report.” Submitted to the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council, this report highlights the need for government action to protect the Black community in the United States from menthol cigarettes.
- Vital Strategies joined the international community in signing the COP27 letter, which called upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for conflict of interest management after Coca Cola’s COP27 sponsorship.
- Vital Strategies signed onto a global letter requesting that health data governance be added to the agenda for the 2023 World Health Assembly.