Evelin Ilves at the WHO European Ministerial Conference in Ashgabat on the 3rd of December, 2013

 Evelin Ilves at the WHO European Ministerial Conference in Ashgabat on the 3rd of December, 2013

Esteemed President of Turkmenistan, Madam Regional Director, ministers, participants of the conference,


I would first like to thank our host country, Turkmenistan, for your generous hospitality. I am grateful to the WHO (for organising the conference and) for the opportunity to address this conference. I stand before you not as an elected official, because I am not, but as a medical doctor, a mother and wife, who for a number of years dealt with the issue of non-communicable diseases, both publicly and privately.

Why should we be concerned about non-communicable diseases? In 2000 the UN General Assembly agreed to the Millennium Development Goals, in which, in the section devoted to healthcare, focussed on maternal and child health and on communicable diseases. Unfortunately the Development Goals left out diseases that are also communicable, but not through bacteria and viruses. These diseases are socially communicable, we create these diseases ourselves and through our behaviour. We also can pass them on to our friends, our children and others around us. Moreover, we must recognise that a role is also played by those who produce and market the products that cause these diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

A few years ago I called upon my compatriots in Estonia to avoid artificial trans-fats, the fats, created when hydrogen gas is used to treat liquid vegetable or animal oils to make them solid or semi-solid. These have been in use as cheaper substitutes for animal fats in processed foods. The link to heart disease was only scientifically proven in the early 1990s.

I suggested to the parents of our pre-school-age children to put healthier candy (or fruit) into their Christmas stockings instead of candy containing trans-fats. Many shrugged their shoulders in incomprehension, many in our food industry thought that I was incompetent and was endangering a successful domestic industry. I did not, however, back down. Eventually, when the media feeding-frenzy died down and people seriously examined the scientific literature, they changed their minds. And started to read the labels in the food stores.

A number of months later Estonia's largest confectionary factory, whose products can be found in nearly every Estonian home, announced that it would cease using trans-fats in all of its products. Just recently, the US Food and Drug Agency, announced a ban on the use of all artificial trans-fats since there was sufficient evidence of their connection to cardio-vascular diseases. What, however, has been the healthcare costs due to the massive consumption of unhealthy industrial foods in the past century?

03.12.2013

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