Intended for healthcare professionals


Food policies for healthy populations and healthy economies

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 15 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2801
  1. Corinna Hawkes, food policy and public health specialist
  1. 1Centre for Food Policy, City University, London, UK
  1. corinnahawkes{at}
  • Accepted 16 February 2012

Corinna Hawkes examines what has changed about our food supply system and how health can be made a priority for the food economy

In September 2011, the United Nations held a high level meeting of the general assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.1 The meeting was held in response to the increasing burden of these diseases around the world and the recognition that four major risk factors (tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, inadequate physical activity, and unhealthy diets) are modifiable through intervention.2 The resulting political declaration emphasised the need for food policies, stating that member states should “advance the implementation of multisectoral, cost-effective, population-wide interventions in order to reduce the impact of… unhealthy diets.”1 Analysis of the development of the modern food economy provides insight into what needs to be done. The World Health Assembly in May will discuss what the World Health Organization is doing to advance this agenda, including providing a report on the development of a framework for monitoring global non-communicable disease and a set of global voluntary targets.3

Food policies to promote healthier diets

Scientific studies indicate that policies to promote consumption of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, and fish and reduce intake of animal fats, trans fats, and sodium could prevent millions of premature deaths.4 WHO includes reduced salt intake in food and replacement of trans fat with polyunsaturated fat among its “best buys” for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases—interventions that it considers “not only highly cost-effective but also cheap, feasible and culturally acceptable to implement.”2 And a ministerial conference held in preparation for the UN meeting included a roundtable on food policies that recognised the primacy of WHO’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health as a framework for action.5 Food policies to promote healthy diets are also …

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