Partnering For Change: The Role of the Private Sector
BY: RHONA APPLEBAUM
The global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is growing at an alarming rate. NCDs have reached every corner of the world, overtaking infectious diseases to become the leading cause of death, illness and disability, as well as a central factor in escalating health costs.
NCDs are no longer primarily identified with development and wealth. On the contrary, the impact of such ailments is far greater in low- and middle-income countries, where 80 percent of NCD-related deaths occur. Moreover, NCDs are a leading threat to social and economic development, and they exacerbate inequalities between countries and populations.
Key factors fueling this rapid growth in NCDs include increased life expectancy and the aging population, urbanization with changes in consumption patterns and lifestyle, including tobacco use, physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, and unhealthy diets. Nearly 35 million people and about 3.5 million children die annually from NCDs related to micronutrient inadequacies.
NCDs are a growing threat to global health and we need focused interventions to keep non-communicable diseases from becoming an even greater burden on society. Otherwise, based on current trends, deaths from NCDs will continue to increase and cause even greater worldwide stress.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEMS
The WHO 2010 Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases demonstrated progress over the last decade. However, it also reinforced the fact that governments and civil society cannot succeed alone. Collaboration with the private sector and partnering across sectors will increase the likelihood of finding workable solutions that result in sustainable improvements.
Today, we’re entering a new era of global collaboration, driven by a shared awareness that problems such as NCDs affect all of society and that each sector has an appropriate role to play and contribution to make. Addressing the problem of NCDs requires the concerted will, effort and expertise of government, civil society and the private sector. Harnessing the power of every sector can lead to synergies to affect positive change.
The September 2011 United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases is an historic opportunity to elevate NCDs on the global agenda and increase the worldwide urgency toward overcoming this challenge. As the world prepares for this meeting, it’s essential that we build an ongoing and robust dialogue among all stakeholders. Broad engagement will ensure a true multi-sectoral response that drives informed, effective and systemic action.
THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Private sector organizations can play a substantive, positive role in helping to identify and advance workable solutions to NCDs. The private sector should work closely with key stakeholders – including governments, academia, health professionals and civil society – to promote active, healthy lifestyles, healthy diets and adequate physical activity.
Private sector companies should evaluate their expertise and infrastructure to identify unique advantages and areas of expertise they can lend to broaden the impact of global health programs. For example, The Coca-Cola Company is now lending its extensive distribution system to deliver medicine, health messages and vaccines to communities in Africa that previously had little or no access to these life-saving health supplies.
Then there are things every company, regardless of size or expertise can and should do, like focusing on promoting healthier lifestyles among its employees, consumers and the communities that it serves. For example, in our workplaces, we provide smoke-free facilities, annual health checks, flu vaccinations and well-being incentives to encourage a healthy and active workforce.
AN INDUSTRY-WIDE EFFORT
Just as collaboration across sectors is essential to affect real change, collaborations comprising private sector companies within industries can lead to synergistic effects. In 2008, The Coca-Cola Company, along with seven other major international food and non-alcoholic beverage companies, made voluntary global public commitments to action in support of continuing efforts to implement the 2004 WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.
These commitments include reformulating and introducing new products to provide consumers with options they can use in building sensible, balanced diets; providing easy-to-understand and meaningful, fact-based nutrition labelling and information; changing how and what the industry advertises to children; supporting nutrition education and physical activity programs; and participating in national and regional efforts with governments, NGOs and professional organizations to promote healthy lifestyles in the workplace and in communities.
The International Food & Beverage Alliance, a group of food and non-alcoholic beverage companies with a presence in more than 200 countries worldwide, was also formed in 2008 with a goal of helping consumers in all nations achieve balanced diets and healthy lifestyles. Over the past three years, the food and beverage industry has made significant and substantial progress in all the areas listed in the preceding paragraph and we will continue to commit time, resources and expertise to do our part. Progress is captured in an annual report.
Another collaboration, the Consumer Goods Forum – a global network of more than 650 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries – works together to address consumer health and wellness. CGF has adopted resolutions to address three primary areas: availability of products and services that support healthier diets and lifestyles; transparent, fact-based information that helps consumers make informed choices; and communication and educational programs to raise awareness and inspire healthier lifestyles.
These coordinated efforts demonstrate one industry’s commitment to contribute to efforts to the promotion of active, healthy living for all.
ONE COMPANY’S EXPERIENCE
At The Coca-Cola Company, we strive to make a lasting difference everywhere we engage. We are committed to refining, strengthening and expanding our role in decreasing the growth of NCDs, working toward the day that they are no longer a global threat. We firmly believe that we can do well as a global company by doing good as a responsible corporate citizen.
We don’t have all the answers, but we recognize a need to think differently, challenge ourselves constantly and form new partnerships that will help find workable solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems.
We are keenly aware that leading an active, healthy lifestyle is a complex proposition for many. Experts believe that it is important to balance the calories you take in with the calories you burn by consuming a sensible, balanced diet combined with regular physical activity. This concept of balancing calories in and out is what the experts refer to as ‘energy balance.’ That’s why our efforts focus on three areas – education, variety and physical activity, “THINK, DRINK, MOVE” – to help educate associates, consumers and communities about the importance of energy balance. We encourage active, healthy living through energy balance programs that offer physical activity and nutrition education. Examples include Moderation, Balance, Diversity, a school program in Greece and Triple Play, a program delivered through the Boys and Girls Club of America that has reached more than 4 million children in the U.S. Having the necessary information for making informed choices is essential, which is why we are committed to transparency about our products’ nutrition profile. Our global policy on front-of-pack energy labelling has been in effect since 2009.
While proper nutrition is essential, other factors play an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills more than 5 million people a year. Our company, therefore, prohibits smoking inside its facilities. Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles have also been identified as a major underlying cause of NCDs. There is strong evidence that school, workplace and community physical activity programs can make a difference in reducing risk factors associated with NCDs. That’s why we sponsor more than 250 physical activity and nutrition education programs in more than 100 countries. By 2015, we hope to have at least one such program in every country we operate.
We also support others who are in positions to provide training and/or perform key research aimed at reducing the incidence and impact of NCDs. Our unrestricted grant to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation supports efforts to build global capacity for NCD prevention in low and middle income countries. With support from this grant, CDC is more effectively and concretely interacting with key global partners for NCD prevention and supporting the training of a critical future generation of researchers. We support similar efforts in other parts of the world as well as a variety of additional programs to help develop workable solutions to this very complex problem. With complex, multi-faceted problems like obesity and NCDs, the right answers aren’t always simple and the simple answers aren’t always right. Thus a multi-disciplinary approach, new thinking, and creative partnerships across all stakeholder groups are essential ingredients.
Through product innovation, we’re also seeking to address micronutrient shortages in certain countries. For instance, NutriJuice® is a fortified drink specifically focused on providing iron to iron-deficient children in the Philippines. We’re working to replicate this concept in other parts of the world.
THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW
Today, NCDs represent one of our most significant global challenges and should be collectively addressed by all key sector stakeholders – private and public– working together. Our goal is simple – to help harness the synergies of these different sectors to affect positive change. Our combined efforts will have far greater impact than those of one sector alone, giving us the greatest opportunity to reverse negative health trends and improve the health of society as a whole.
As a global citizen, the world’s largest beverage company and one of the largest multi-national employers, The Coca-Cola Company embraces the opportunity to help find workable solutions and we encourage our private industry colleagues and all interested stakeholders to heed the call to do what they can to support these efforts, and to consider what we have long recognized: the health of any business is interwoven with the health of its employees, its consumers and the communities in which it operates. We can indeed do well, by doing good.
Rhona Applebaum, PhD, is vice president, and chief scientific and regulatory officer for The Coca-Cola Company.
SOURCE: Applebaum, RA.Partnering for Change: The Role of the Private Sector. Global Health Magazine, Fall 2011,23-25). Posted12/5/2012 http://www.globalhealthmagazine.com/summary/role_of_the_private_sector/
This article was originally published in GLOBAL HEALTH Magazine, a publication of the Global Health Council, http://www.globalhealthmagazine.com/summary/role_of_the_private_sector/. Reprinted with Permission.