WHO to revise obesity plan under U.S. pressure
Under pressure from the United States, the World Health Organization yesterday agreed to allow further revision of its plans to combat obesity worldwide, setting the stage for a battle over the next few weeks as the U.N. agency prepares a draft obesity plan for a mid-March deadline.
The draft's precursor, an 18-page "global strategy on diet, physical activity and health," recommends lower intakes of sugar, salt and saturated fats, curbs on the marketing of food to children and the use of tax and pricing policies to influence food consumption decisions.
The WHO says these measures are necessary to curb heart disease, diabetes and cancer, which are likely to account for 73 percent of deaths worldwide by 2020. They are also intended to fight obesity, which reportedly afflicts 300 million adults worldwide and one-third of U.S. adults. In the developing world, 115 million people suffer from obesity-related health problems.
The draft, to be prepared by the agency's secretariat, will be submitted to the WHO's annual assembly for endorsement in May (Frances Williams, Financial Times, Jan. 20).
On Thursday the United States objected to the strategy, saying it was based on insufficient evidence. Critics said Washington was pandering to the food and sugar industries (U.N. Wire, Jan. 16).
At yesterday's meeting of the WHO's executive board, William Steiger, special assistant for international affairs to the U.S. health secretary, reiterated the U.S. stance that the strategy was not sufficiently "evidence-based" and put too little emphasis on personal responsibility for health.
A drafting group was to meet today to consider changes suggested by the United States and other members.
Activist groups urged WHO not to water down the plan and the resolution, saying the emphasis on personal responsibility made no sense in an environment in which the food industry spends billions of dollars on marketing and advertising, much of it aimed at children (Williams, Financial Times).
"We need a strategy to take us out of the comfort zone, because more of the same is clearly not an option," New Zealand delegate Gillian Durham said at the meeting (Jonathan Fowler, Associated Press/San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 20).