07/04/2014 06:34 BST | Updated 03/06/2014 06:59 BST

World Health Day: Governments Need to Step Up to the Plate

Monday is United Nations' World Health Day, where those of us working to improve the health of people across the globe traditionally deliver a clarion call to galvanise people into action. It's a moment when, to paraphrase Kofi Annan, we remind world governments that health is to be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for.

But this year that message has particular resonance. In 2000, all the countries around the world signed up to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. These goals included halving extreme poverty, providing universal education, and halting the spread of HIV/AIDs, but not any goals to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer. This was a serious omission, as figures released by the World Health Organization in February showed that cancer is now the biggest cause of mortality worldwide. What's more, the global cancer epidemic is expected to rise to 24million new cases a year by 2035.

However, a significant number of cancer cases could be prevented if appropriate action is taken by governments to facilitate specific lifestyle changes; that is, encourage people to eat a nutritious diet, maintain a healthy weight, and take regular physical activity.

So as the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs looms over the horizon we, at World Cancer Research Fund International, are urging the United Nations to consider putting the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases at the heart of the new post-2015 international development goals, following the current consultation process with expert stakeholders like us.

The MDGs led to unprecedented efforts and funding to solve the eight goals. However, the goals in relation to health needed to be more holistic and comprehensive; for example, the goal to eliminate poverty only used "hunger" as a measure - completely overlooking the fact that lack of nutrition is also a characteristic of poverty.

In addition, the global obesity epidemic needs to be addressed; according to the World Health Organization, at least 2.8million people die each year worldwide as a result of being overweight or obese. Moreover, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer, and it plays an important role in increasing the rise of other non-communicable diseases.

Non-communicable diseases account for 63% of the global burden of disease but receive less than 3% of the money spent on the development assistance for health. Our comprehensive analysis of worldwide research on cancer and lifestyle factors, the Continuous Update Project, shows that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through diet, weight, and physical activity. So this World Health Day, let's work to ensure that food and nutrition are put at the heart of the next set of international development goals.

For the latest news from World Cancer Research Fund International go to