The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report today called, “Promoting Cardiovascular Health in the Developing World: A Critical Challenge to Achieving Global Health.” The report is of great interest to my colleagues at PepsiCo and me because it mentions the important role of the private sector in addressing cardiovascular disease (CVD) around the world. It’s also important to note that I served as an IOM committee member for this report and Mehmood Khan and George Mensah’s paper, Changing Practices to Improve Dietary Outcomes and Reduce Cardiovascular Risk: A Food Company’s Perspective, is cited.
The report highlights the reality that heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 28% of all deaths. Death rates in developing countries such as China, India and Mexico have become much higher than those in developed countries. Of growing concern is that deaths occur up to a decade sooner among patients in these countries as compared to the developed world.
The major risk factors have been known for decades and include unhealthy diets (mainly related to the quality of fats, the levels of sodium intake, and a lack of fresh foods), lack of physical activity and excess alcohol use. However, additional factors have emerged in recent years. Overweight and obesity, and closely related, type II diabetes, are universal problems undermining health gains in many countries. Overweight and obese mothers have children at greater long terms risks for CVD, and babies born either underweight or overweight are similarly at greater risk many decades later.
The report does not dwell on the causes of CVD but rather focuses on actions needed by many sectors of society – including the private sector. The importance of food companies collaborating with international public-sector efforts of governments is stressed in several places. In particular companies’ responsibilities in lowering sodium, saturated fat levels, unhealthy oils and sugars in foods and supporting efforts to address obesity including marketing restrictions to children, clearer labels, reformulated products with lower energy densities and high nutrient quality and support for physical activity programs are all mentioned.