The WHO last week finalised its Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, due to be presented at the World Health Assmebly meeting in May 2004. The report was prompted by member states during a May 2002 World Health Assembly meeting, facing the staggering burden from growing obesity rates and diet-related disease.
Incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer have soared to account for 60 per cent of the some 56.5 million preventable deaths worldwide each year, show WHO figures, with the problem greatest in developing countries.
The WHO commissioned an expert group to assess the impact of diet on chronic disease and their findings, released in April this year, called for a limit in the consumption of saturated and trans fats and salt in the diet. It also suggested that no more than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake come from sugar, causing an angry response from the US sugar industry.
The report formed the basis for six regional consultations on the diet and health strategy, which involved more than 80 countries between May and June 2003. Industry meetings also took place to gain input from leading food and beverage makers.
The finished strategy does not include the precise recommendation for sugar intake but does retain much of the expert group's proposals, including a 'shift away from consumption of saturated and trans fats', limited intake of 'free' sugars and salt and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables.
The recommendations will need to be translated into national recommendations in light of the local health situation and dietary guidelines, suggests the WHO.
The report also states: "The translation of these recommendations, into a global framework that leads to regional and national action plans will require sustained political commitment and the collaboration of many stakeholders."
The report places heavy emphasis on the role of government and public health strategies, suggesting that its findings could inform national dietary guidelines.
"Where needed, governments should consider policies that provide incentives and support for the production and marketing of healthier foods." They are also encouraged to use fiscal measures to promote healthier foods.
Finally it notes the importance of the private sector. "Initiatives undertaken by the food industry to modify the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods and to review many current marketing practices could accelerate health gains worldwide."
Specific examples of such initiatives are outlined in the report, currently on the WHO executive board's agenda for discussion at a January 2004 meeting. This meeting will decide whether the strategy is put forward for consideration at the spring World Health Assembly summit.