Tobacco-style regulation needed on ‘unhealthy’ foods

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

A tobacco-style regulation could improve children's health
A tobacco-style regulation could improve children's health

Related tags Nutrition

A tobacco-style regulation should be introduced to reduce children’s exposure to “unhealthy” food products and help to protect and promote healthy diets, according to health campaigners and consumer advocates.

In an open letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Consumers International, the UK Health Forum and the World Obesity Federation called for a “similar mechanism”​ to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control to cover food products.   

Addressed to WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan, and Food and Agriculture Organisation director general José Graziano da Silva, it stated: “The governance of food production and distribution cannot be left to economic interests alone.”

Discourage consumption

Governments should take regulatory action to reduce children’s exposure to marketing, limit saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food and tax unhealthy foods to discourage their consumption, it added.

All trade and investment policies should also to be assessed for their potential health impacts, it claimed.
The calls, made ahead of the International Conference on Nutrition taking place later this week in Rome (November 19-21), were supported by consumer groups in Fiji and Mexico and more than 320 individuals and organisations.

Amanda Long, director general of Consumers International, said: “Diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are increasing in all regions of the world, most rapidly in developing countries.

“The policy actions that governments take now will determine whether we can turn the tide on this health crisis. A binding global convention offers the best hope of protecting and promoting the health of all consumers.”
Dr Tim Lobstein, policy director for the World Obesity Federation, said the rapid expansion of the marketing of highly processed foods was undermining health in much of the developing world, leading to rapidly rising rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

‘Political courage’

“Regulatory action to control food markets will require political courage,” ​he said. “We should start with a global convention which can help member states, particularly smaller nations, to build and maintain a robust defence of public health.”
 The authors have already drafted a ‘Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets’,​ stating such a treaty could “help member states, particularly smaller nations, to maintain a robust defence of public health for their citizens”.

The International Conference on Nutrition is a governmental meeting on nutrition jointly organized by the FAO and the WHO. The two main outcome documents of the conference are the Rome Declaration on Nutrition​: a political commitment document, and the Framework for Action​: a technical guide for implementation.

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