WHO diet strategy voted in by world's health ministers

Related tags Food industry World health organization Nutrition

The world's health ministers gave their support on Saturday to a
new policy produced by the World Health Organization that is
designed to tackle the world's growing problem of obesity and
diet-related disease, said to account for some 60 per cent of
global deaths.

The 'Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health', developed through long discussion with governments, social organisations and the food industry, makes recommendations on limiting sugar, salt and certain fats in processed food.

It also looks at ways in which higher intake of fruits and vegetables could be promoted by food and agriculture policies as well as tax incentives and the role of consumer education and communication on healthy foods including marketing, health claims and nutrition labelling.

The 192 member states adopted the plan at the annual Health Assembly in Geneva although their votes are not binding and governments will not be required to implement the strategy in national policy.

There was also extensive pressure from certain sectors of the food industry, especially sugar producers, who lobbied for changes to the recommendations on cutting sugar intake.

Concessions to these countries involved the addition of paragraphs to the draft plan suggesting that trade interests should not be harmed by the promotion of a healthy diet. Also appropriate levels of intakes for energy, nutrients and foods should be determined in accordance with national guidelines and dietary habits and practices.

But while some consumer campaign groups were disappointed with these concessions, the plan remains an unprecedented move to recognize the impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on health. These, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers and obesity-related conditions, make up almost half (47 per cent) of the global burden of disease, according to the WHO.

The report clearly underlines the need for government action to support healthy eating and offers a blueprint for countries trying to develop policies that make it easier for people to eat healthier food.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA) welcomed the adoption of the strategy.

C. Manly Molpus, president and CEO of GMA and Raymond Destin, director general of CIAA, said in a joint statement: "We hope that the adoption of this strategy provides further momentum for all sectors who have a stake in these issues to accelerate their efforts."

But in an interview with Associated Press, Dr Jim Kiely, a member of the Irish delegation, warned: "This is going to need champions in each country. It's simply not going to happen because the health minister has been here and goes back and says this is a very good document."

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