WHO challenges food industry in report on diet and health

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 08 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:515
  1. Fiona Fleck
  1. Geneva

    A major report on how millions of people around the world can avoid chronic disease through diet and exercise has called on the food industry to reduce amounts of certain types of fats as well as salt and sugar in snacks and processed foods.

    The report says that many deaths attributed to chronic diseases are due to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol concentrations, and low levels of physical activity and could be prevented.

    It says the prevention of obesity in children is a priority and recommends restricting consumption of “energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods (e.g. packaged snacks)” and restricting “intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

    It criticises the food and drinks industry for “heavy marketing practices of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods.” It said children's exposure to such marketing should be limited—but does not specify who should do this and how.

    Food industry associations hit back, dismissing some of its findings as being “in conflict with a wealth of scientific evidence on obesity, diet quality and nutrient intake.”

    “There is no association between sugar consumption and obesity. The opposite is true. People who have diets based on carbohydrates have a lower body mass index,” said Richard Adamson, a scientist working for the National Soft Drink Association in the United States.

    But consumers' groups were positive about the report and its recommendations to protect children from aggressive marketing of unhealthy processed food.

    Patti Rundall of Consumers International and the International Baby Food Network welcomed WHO plans to “reinvigorate its work on diet and nutrition and address the issue of excessive consumption of fatty, sugary and salty foods.”

    The report, which was released on Monday, concludes that a diet low in saturated fats, sugar, and salt and high in fruit and vegetables, together with an hour a day of exercise, can counter cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

    The authors said their conclusions were not entirely new but that the report contains a more detailed analysis than hitherto of the effect of specific types of fat, and the latest findings on fibre and carbohydrate.

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