— cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases lead to 63 percent of annual deaths worldwide. They are recognized as global killers today and a major health challenge. They affect individuals as well as society with an economic burden expected to reach $30 trillion over the next 20 years.

The situation in Japan is no different in this regard. According to World Health Organization data, NCDs account for 80 percent of all deaths in the country, with more than 9 percent of those dying before the age of 60, when people are still in their most productive years.

The good news is that NCDs are largely preventable through better self-care — up to 80 percent of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes, and over a third of cancers, could be prevented.

Self-care is a holistic and very powerful concept. It involves making healthy lifestyle choices ranging from regular exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene, avoiding risky behavior such as smoking, but also getting vaccinated, using sunscreen and the rational use of self-care products, services and medicines. This should go hand in hand with improving our health knowledge and becoming more aware of physical and mental conditions.

When practiced 24/7, self-care makes a huge difference in our well-being. It empowers people and results not only in higher self-esteem but also in improved wellness and longer life expectancy.

Although there has been some progress in recognizing the crucial role of self-care in the prevention of NCDs, it is still not sufficiently appreciated by the general public globally, to make a tangible difference. Internationally one in three people smokes while tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable deaths in the world today, killing more than 5 million people a year — more than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined.

At the same time, more than 1.4 billion adults are overweight, and of these over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese. In Japan over 22.2 percent of the population — more than 28 million people — smoke, with obesity levels approaching global figures.

Part of the problem is that self-care is also not seen as an integral part of effective and cost-efficient health care systems, which are currently oriented to disease treatment. Prevention is understood mainly in the context of disease and not encouragement of “wellness.”

We need to look on a global and national level to reform health systems to shift from treating the citizens as passive victims of diseases to active shapers of their own well-being. We should support behavioral change by creating self-care friendly policies, also outside current health systems — from town planning to transport and education. This will not only help to save lives but also to reduce the burden on health care systems.

Exchanging and promoting best practices among different countries should be a part of the way forward as well. We already see some optimistic tendencies. Initiatives in support of self-care are taking place around the world.

In 2011 the International Self-Care movement, which celebrates July 24 as International Self-Care Day to remind us all of the benefits of self-care, was launched in China and has since spread to Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria. Interesting activities are also taking place in Australia, the United States and in the United Kingdom.

As the challenge is global, the International Self-Care movement also called on the United Nations to recognize Self-Care Day on July 24 each year.

This could largely help to raise awareness and encourage people to be active participants in their own self-care and motivate governments to create self-care friendly policies.

In the meantime, we all need to take responsibility for our wellness. It is good for helping us to avoid becoming a burden to families, our society and ourselves. It is not difficult — one step at a time — and ultimately we can all contribute to combating killer diseases of this century.

We would therefore like to encourage Japanese citizens to join the self-care movement starting today.

We are open to share our experience and encourage policymakers to turn self-care into an integral part of a new collective compact for managing health, which will help achieve healthier and more productive societies and focus public health care budgets in areas where there is the greatest need.

Dr. Zhenyu Guo is founder of the self-care movement and initiator of the first Self-Care Day in China in 2012. Dr. David Webber is founding director of the International Self-Care Foundation.

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