Governments around the world must come together to tackle the threats to public health of obesity, drinking and smoking.

That was the message from health secretary Andrew Lansley today as he addressed the United Nations in New York, calling for a repeat of previous efforts to beat communicable diseases such as smallpox and polio.

Lansley said social factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise presented the greatest threat to public health in developed nations.

“More than half a century ago, our predecessors came together to tackle infectious diseases,” he said at the UN’s conference on non-communicable diseases.

“Today, we face new challenges from obesity, lung disease and alcohol-related diseases. These are inextricably linked to the way we live our lives.

“They are just as widespread, just as chronic and increasingly threaten early mortality and disability. We need a bold and determined ‘whole government’ approach looking at better outcomes and helping individuals to make better choices about their own health.”

He added: “I hope that in decades to come, our successors will look back and see that now was when the tide began to turn, that with progress and development, came not only opportunity and increased life expectancy, but healthy life expectancy.”