WHO health strategy facing industry 'sabotage'

Related tags Obesity Nutrition

A WHO report on obesity prevention, which would urge governments to
promote healthy foods, is under threat from food makers supported
by the US administration, said consumer groups last week.

The long-awaited Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, released in draft form early last year, is scheduled to be approved at a meeting in Geneva this week of the World Health Organisation's executive board.

The report calls for a limit in the consumption of saturated and trans fats, sugars and salt in the diet, noting they are often found in snacks, processed foods and drinks. It also urges governments to restrict food advertising aimed at children, to use fiscal and pricing policies to discourage consumption of junk foods, and to support healthy foods using incentives and subsidies.

The International Obesity TaskForce has confirmed in recent reports the need for action, forecasting that adult obesity rates could rise to almost 50 per cent in little over 20 years in some countries. Children could be even more seriously affected as more evidence emerges of increasing numbers of overweight and obese youngsters developing type 2 diabetes.

But the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that food makers are working hand in hand with the Bush Administration to undercut the WHO recommendations.

The group said the US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy Thompson and lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers of America will go to Geneva next week to urge the WHO to withdraw, weaken, or postpone the release of its anti-obesity recommendations, countering Secretary Thompson's public pronouncements about fighting obesity.

CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade said: "These tactics are reminiscent of the tobacco industry's sinister efforts to oppose global anti-smoking initiatives."

The attack follows the leaking of a letter from William Steiger, a special assistant to Secretary Thompson, to the WHO director general that calls for far weaker, unspecified policy approaches, like "better data and surveillance, and the promotion of sustainable strategies that focus on energy balance, individual responsibility, and strong public health approaches", according to CSPI​.

The group added that the Grocery Manufacturers of America and food industry lobbyists will be in Geneva this week to continue the campaign. The meeting will decide whether the strategy is put forward for consideration at the spring World Health Assembly summit.

The report was prompted by member states at a similar meeting in May 2002. 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.

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