Novo Nordisk reinforces its commitment to fight 'urban diabetes' for the New Year

Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) wants to put Type 2 diabetes found in cities, or "urban diabetes," at the top of the healthcare industry and city leadership agendas. And it'll do its part by pushing forward with its own campaign.

As urban migration accelerates, so do the number of city dwellers with Type 2 diabetes. Two-thirds of all people with diabetes now live in cities, and not enough is being done to help them, wrote Lars Rebien Sørensen, CEO and president of Novo Nordisk, in a post last week on the Harvard Business Review website.

"The world is failing in the fight against Type 2 diabetes," he said, calling for a new approach that goes beyond the traditional healthcare system, especially in cities, to combat this "emergency in slow motion."

To combat the problem, Novo will carry on with "Cities Changing Diabetes," a campaign launched in 2014, partnering with 5 cities around the world, along with University College London and Steno Diabetes Center. The effort includes research and awareness building in a concentrated push for partnerships and action between businesses, healthcare professionals, academics, community leaders and city planners.

Why the focus on cities? In part because that's where the people are. An estimated 5 million people around the world move from the country to the city every month.

With those moves also come changes in habits and diet that point to more risk for Type 2 diabetes. In a series of YouTube videos posted this past fall by Cities Changing Diabetes, 7 experts noted a variety of factors responsible for the connection between more people in cities and more cases of Type 2 diabetes. Those include things like time pressures, long-distance commutes, too much processed food, too little exercise, walker-unfriendly urban planning and the disconnection from traditional healthy foods. Some solutions outlined in the video series include better urban planning, new technologies, sharing education and resources, and creating more awareness.

The original 5 cities--Houston, Copenhagen, Mexico City, Tianjin and Shanghai--will be joined by Vancouver and Johannesburg, the group announced recently, along with the commitment by Novo to invest more than "$20 million of expert resource and research funds" into the campaign by 2020.

Sorensen explained Novo's involvement in the HBR column: "I am sometimes asked why Novo Nordisk is trying to halt the rise of the diabetes--surely it's not in the interests of the company that supplies half the world's insulin. For me, it's very simple. Diabetes is our specialty. It has been for almost 100 years. With our knowledge and position in the market, how can we not do something to help? And if one day we wind up eliminating diabetes, thereby destroying a big part of our business, we can be proud. We'll have worked on the greatest social service of any pharmaceutical company, and that is surely what it means to be leading true change in health care."

- read Sorensen's HBR post
- see the campaign press release

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