WHO Places Obesity in the Spotlight
As the World Health Assembly opened its 67th session in Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan reportedly expressed her deep concern about the increasing incidence worldwide in childhood obesity, stating, “Our children are getting fatter.” Chan announced the formation of a high-level Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. Chaired by Peter Gluckman, the chief science advisor to New Zealand’s prime minister, the commission will produce a consensus report detailing measures that would be most effective in addressing the issue in different countries around the world. Its recommendations will be announced during the 2015 World Health Assembly.
Two international membership bodies called on governments convening in Geneva to develop a global convention to address obesity, similar to the legal framework for tobacco control. The World Obesity Federation and Consumers International (CI) have launched their campaign by calling for controls on food marketing, improvements to nutrition information labels, the reformulation of “unhealthy food products,” standards for food provided in public institutions, and the use of economic tools to influence consumption patterns.
According to CI Director General Amanda Long, “The scale of the impact of unhealthy food on consumer health is comparable to the impact of cigarettes. The food and beverage industry has dragged its feet on meaningful change and governments have felt unable or unwilling to act. The only answer remaining for the global community is a framework convention and we urge governments to seriously consider our recommendations for achieving that. If they do not, we risk decades of obstruction from industry and a repeat of the catastrophic global health crisis caused by smoking.” See internationalsupermarketnews.com, May 15, 2014; WHO News Release, May 19, 2014.
Meanwhile, observing that unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to global health than tobacco and that governments should move fast to tax harmful food products, United Nations (U.N.) Investigator Olivier De Schutter issued a statement at the May 19, 2014, opening of the annual WHO summit, calling for global efforts to address the obesity epidemic. “Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed,” De Schutter said.
Considered the U.N.’s leading voice on hunger, De Schutter has asked the international community to support regulations limiting access to and taxing salty, sugary foods that are high in saturated fats and contribute to obesity. In addition to imposing a so-called sin tax, De Schutter supports a crackdown on the marketing of junk foods, an overhaul of agricultural subsidies that purportedly drive down the costs and drive up availability of some unhealthy foods (including sweeteners), and increased support for local food production. See U.N. Press Release, May 19, 2014.