U.S. opposes WHO's anti-obesity campaign
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush announced yesterday it will demand significant changes to a World Health Organization global initiative to tackle obesity, saying the plan is based on faulty scientific evidence and exceeds the U.N. body's mandate, according to a Washington Post report.
U.S. and international health experts have sharply criticized the move, charging that U.S. objections are an attempt to placate the food and sugar industries and derail a vital international assault on one of the world's biggest health problems.
According to the WHO, about 1 billion adults worldwide are overweight and at least 300 million are obese. In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults are overweight, and nearly one in three is obese.
The WHO plan includes some controversial options, such as restricting advertising aimed at children and increasing the price of junk foods through taxes and adjustments in farm subsidies.
"There have been approaches that WHO has taken that we do not consider to be based on the best practices and the best science," said William R. Steiger, special assistant for international affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "What we want is a strategy that WHO can trumpet that is the product of the best possible scientific evidence."
Steiger said the United States seeks to place much greater emphasis on the role of "personal responsibility" instead of government regulation.
International health experts said the comprehensive approach outlined in the draft version of the plan would provide a powerful weapon to governments and public-health advocates seeking action against one of the most pressing public health problems.
"This document is fantastically important," said Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, an independent London-based public-health think tank. "It should have a big impact, unless it's sabotaged. And we know it's being sabotaged" (Rob Stein, Washington Post, Jan. 16).