Newswise — To the government leaders gathered in New York today for the third UN high-level meeting on noncommunicable diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg brings a positive message: The 41 million annual deaths from NCDs are largely preventable.

What’s needed to save millions of lives is political will. 

Bloomberg, who is to be reappointed today to a second term as WHO’s Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, backed effective strategies against NCDs as a 3-term mayor of New York City—leading to a 3-year increase in life expectancy for residents during his tenure. And as a philanthropist, Bloomberg has supported efforts to reduce the effects of tobacco, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and other threats to health. (Bloomberg is a benefactor of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which publishes Global Health NOW.)

In an exclusive Q&A with Global Health NOW conducted via email, Bloomberg shares his advice to national leaders at today’s UN high-level meeting, examples of best-buy interventions against NCDs, the value of solid data in allocating resources, and the under-appreciated power of cities to improve global health.

“Many of the most effective measures to fight NCDs don’t require a lot of money,” Bloomberg says. “They do require political will—and that’s something that today’s meeting at the UN can help to build.” 

What will be your takeaway message today to the UN high-level meeting on NCDs?

We’re facing an epidemic—but we can do something about it. Noncommunicable diseases are largely preventable, and we know what works. National governments can save an awful lot of lives by putting the right measures in place, and their leadership can set an example for others. 

What has most encouraged you and most discouraged you in the global fight against NCDs?

The progress we’ve made fighting tobacco use is very encouraging, because it is the number one agent of preventable death. Since 2007, Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed nearly $1 billion to combat tobacco use. When we started out, around 40 countries had at least one high-quality tobacco control policy in place. Today, 121 countries do. Over that period, global sales of cigarettes began falling for the first time since the beginning of the tobacco industry. Tobacco control measures adopted in the last 10 years will have saved nearly 35 million lives.

It’s also encouraging to see an increasing number of cities and countries pass taxes on sugary drinks. Obesity is a growing problem that will take an enormous toll on public health and the economy unless we act. 

It’s disappointing that more countries and cities aren’t taking action yet—but we can’t let that discourage us. 

Read more of the Q&A here:"