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Battling chronic disease and climate change together

Battling chronic disease and climate change together

The increase in diseases like diabetes, cancer and asthma poses an enormous threat to populations and health systems around the globe. But a new approach by world-renowned epidemiologist Professor Neil Pearce suggests an alternative – by tackling chronic diseases and climate change at the same time.

From 2000-2010, Professor Pearce was the Director for the Centre for Public Health Research in the Research School of Public Health at Massey’s Wellington campus, before moving overseas to take up a prestigious role at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Now he’s back in New Zealand to deliver the latest Innovation Lecture at Massey University’s Albany campus on July 24.

Chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancers, respiratory diseases, neurological diseases and mental disorders are non-infectious and non-transferrable. However, attempts to combat them by lifestyle changes alone have been largely unsuccessful.

By linking the agendas for low carbon development and the prevention of these chronic diseases, Professor Pearce argues that both issues can be addressed, with New Zealand uniquely poised to lead the world in this new approach.

“With the Christchurch rebuild and the big planning discussions involving Auckland’s increasing population currently underway, designing environments for pedestrians and cyclists, rather than for cars, is healthy for individuals and the environment. They also represent the best approach to sustainable development,” he says.

The College of Health’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul McDonald says Professor Pearce’s innovative approach invites people to think more broadly.

“We are delighted to welcome Professor Neil Pearce back to Massey. He has been a highly respected global public health leader for more than 30 years. I’m looking forward to hearing his ideas on how we can simultaneously address two critical issues facing humankind in the 21st century: climate change and the rapid emergence of diseases such as cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes. Addressing complex wicked challenges like these is exactly why the College of Health was created and I’m sure he will feel right at home.“

Professor Pearce’s lecture follows the Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD) in the Context of Health 2020 released by the World Health Organisation in early July.

In a paper subsequently published in the British Medical Journal, Professor Pearce and co-author Professor Debbie Lawlor identified a key opportunity in the fight against NCDs – a change in the urban environment where physical activity in a safe, liveable neighbourhood is a daily part of life.

“By creating a clearer focus on changes to the urban environment, the battle against NCDs can also be addressed; the whole can be more than the sum of the parts.”

Neil Pearce is Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Director of the Centre for Global NCDs at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He has researched occupational epidemiology, co-authoring the leading textbook in this field; conducted wide-ranging asthma research projects and authored a textbook of asthma epidemiology. He continues to work in a broad range of areas of epidemiological NCD research including epidemiological methods, respiratory disease, neurological disease, cancer, diabetes, indigenous health and occupational and environmental health research. In 2008, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2013 he was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Medical Sciences. He was also President of the International Epidemiological Association from 2008-2011.

The guest lecture will be held at the Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatre on the Albany campus of Massey University from 6pm. Reservations are essential.

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