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UN: Over 150 Nations Seek Anti-Tobacco Accord

  • Kevin Foley

This week's RFE/RL Health Report features the international effort to curb smoking and reduce the risk of the diseases smoking is believed to cause. There is also news about a study on the impact of good nutrition on high blood pressure, and a report that says breast feeding may benefit mothers as much as it does their babies. RFE/RL correspondent K.P. Foley reports.


US Surgeon General Urges Global Anti-Tobacco Accord

Washington, 9 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher says that if the international community does not enact an anti-tobacco convention, some ten million people a year will die from smoking-related ailments 20-30 years from now.

In a commentary published in the current issue of the journal of the American Public Health Association, Satcher makes a plea for support for the proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. More than 150 United Nations members began negotiating the proposed agreement last October. The convention is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2003.

Satcher, who is the head of the U.S. Public Health Service, said tobacco-related ailments such as heart disease and cancer are preventable, and he said the world must unite to forestall this looming disaster. He said controlling the trans-national elements of tobacco use will involve not only health ministries, but also ministries of commerce, justice and foreign affairs.

Among other things, Satcher wrote that "the areas of tobacco control most needing coordinated international activity are anti-smuggling measures; measures to restrict tobacco advertising and sponsorship of sports and other activities by tobacco companies; price harmonization, and treatment of addiction to smoking.

At a recent Washington conference on anti-smoking campaigns, Satcher said there are many life-saving strategies to help communities control tobacco use.

"We have an opportunity to save a lot of lives if we make the commitment and work together to implement these programs that have proven to be effective."

Two private anti-smoking advocates noted that much progress has been made in the U.S. during the past decade to implement tobacco control strategies at the local and state government levels.

The American Lung Association and the American Legacy Foundation released a report which said that 49 of the 50 states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws to restrict smoking in public places, or to punish merchants who sell cigarettes to children, or to regulate how tobacco companies advertise their products.

Despite the progress, Cheryl Hilton of the Legacy Foundation said that much work remains to be done.

"We know that we have a long fight ahead. It is true that we have made significant progress over the past few decades, but it is only with continued vigilance and hard work that we can reach the success that we all hope to have, and that is a tobacco-free future."


World Bank To Work With U.S. Agency On Health Promotion

The World Bank and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced they've signed an agreement to work more closely to improve public health in Europe's former communist countries and in the developing world.

Under terms of the agreement, the CDC will transfer some of its technical experts to the Bank. There, they will collaborate in the design, implementation and evaluation of health projects. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the World Bank says the collaboration with the CDC will focus on, among other things, controlling chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. It would target risky behaviors, such as smoking, that contribute to these conditions.

The Bank says the CDC experts and Bank staff will also work on a broad range of projects on nutrition, maternal and child health, control of infectious diseases and developing health policy.


Study Says Less Salt Can Reduce High Blood Pressure

A large study of dieters concludes that a diet low in salt but rich in fruits and vegetables can significantly lower blood pressure, without medication, in both men and women.

The study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Health's Heart, Lung and Blood Institute looked at a nutrition program known by its English acronym DASH -- or, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Researchers compared the DASH diet with the average American diet -- which is higher in fat and meat products. In addition, the 412 study participants followed the nutrition programs at the different levels of sodium, salt, consumption.

The research subjects ate their assigned diets for 30 days at each of three salt levels -- 3,300 milligrams a day, which is the average U.S. consumption; 2,400 milligrams, which is the maximum amount recommended by experts; and 1,500 milligrams a day.

The researchers said they found the greatest reduction in blood pressure from the combination of the DASH diet and 1,500 milligrams a day of sodium. Dr. Eva Obarzanek of the NIH said the experts found, however, that any reduction in salt will lower blood pressure.

"Number one, we found that lowering your sodium will lower your blood pressure -- and that's whether you're eating a regular diet or the DASH diet. Second, we found that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure as well at all three levels of sodium. But, what we found most of all was that the best diet to follow was the DASH diet on the lower sodium level, because that was better with respect to blood pressure than either just lowering sodium or just following the DASH diet."

She said that following the DASH diet at lower sodium can lead to blood pressure reductions of almost nine points. She called that "an astounding amount."

Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts along artery walls. High blood pressure means the heart is working harder than it is supposed to, and if it is not controlled it can lead to heart and kidney diseases or a crippling stroke. Blood pressure can be reduced through weight loss, a proper diet and exercise. However, many people require medication to control the condition. Only a physician can make that determination.


Expert Calls For Global, Coordinated Anti-AIDS Effort

An international campaigner against the HIV-AIDS epidemic says that despite major differences in HIV transmission in different regions of the world, there are some common elements that will predict success in stemming the worldwide spread of the illness.

Dr. Kevin DeCock told an experts conference in the United States this week that the international community must make a renewed commitment to public health, to improving health infrastructure, and to expanded efforts to reach HIV-infected people with testing, prevention, and treatment services. He said these are critical components of a successful response. DeCock is the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's field office in Nairobi, Kenya.

HIV is the acronym for Human Immune Deficiency Virus. It is an infection that attacks the body's defensive systems. HIV infection can lead to development of the condition known as AIDS -- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- which is fatal and for which there is no known cure. DeCock noted that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world's HIV and AIDS cases. However, the World Health Organization and other agencies have warned that HIV/AIDS is increasing at an alarming rate in Eastern Europe and some former Soviet states, notably Russia and Ukraine.


Study Says Breast-feeding Reduces Cancer Risk

A Yale University study of rural Chinese women concludes that mothers who breast fed their babies for two or more years cut their risk of breast cancer by 50 percent. The researchers said their findings strengthen the conclusions of other studies on the longer-term benefits of breast feeding to the health of the mother.

The experts hope their findings will help to change cultural attitudes and encourage more women to breast feed. The World Health Organization and the United Nation's children's foundation UNICEF have long advocated breast feeding at least until age two. The WHO says breast feeding provides babies with better nutrition and strengthens their immune system much better than baby formula diets.

The Yale study did not examine why breast feeding may lower risk of breast cancer. Cancer specialists have theorized that breast feeding reduces exposure to hormones thought to be linked to cancer development in later life.