The World Health Organisation (WHO) hosted the first roundtable meeting with senior executives from the food industries on Friday, to discuss ways in which the industry can help encourage healthier diets worldwide.
Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland described the Geneva meeting as "a positive beginning", and said it formally launched what WHO hoped would be an ongoing and constructive dialogue with private sector companies. The meetings will inform the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, being prepared for presentation to the World Health Assembly in May next year.
Twelve CEOs and senior executives from companies including Nestle, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company, The Kellogg Company, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, McDonald's, Yum! Brands and Royal Ahold attended the roundtable meeting.
Cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory disease, obesity and other noncommunicable conditions now account for 59 per cent of the 56.5 million global deaths annually, according to the WHO, and almost half, or 45.9 per cent, of the global burden of disease. And the majority of chronic disease problems now occur in developing countries, caused primarily by unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use.
"To effect changes in diet and physical activity poses an enormous challenge," said Dr Brundtland. "In an increasingly globalised and interdependent world, we believe WHO's goals can only be met through broader involvement with diverse stakeholders."
Last month the WHO released the findings of an expert group on diet and its relation to chronic disease. The report caused controversy among the food industry, sugar manufacturers in particular, who claimed that the dietary recommendations on sugar intake were not in line with current science.
The WHO has already held five Regional Member State consultations, with a sixth and final one scheduled for June, and it will also meet later this month with civil society groups, and with UN agencies and industry trade associations in June. A draft of the strategy will be made available for comment by all stakeholders before the end of the year.