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Regulate food, just like cigarettes


Two global organizations have made strong calls for the food industry to be regulated, as has been done in the case of cigarettes. The two, Consumers International, which advocates for the interests of consumers, and the World Obesity Federation, whose activities are based on combating obesity worldwide, made the call last week.{{more}}

Their demands were made in the context of the rapid growth of obesity in countries, rich and poor alike, and growing concerns that the global food industry is contributing to it. In fact both organizations have expressed the view that obesity is “a greater health risk today than cigarettes.” In fact, unhealthy diets now rank above tobacco as a global cause of non-communicable diseases.

The overconsumption of fatty and sugary foods, from which the fast food industry, giant manufacturers and supermarkets rake in huge profits, contribute to this global health risk. The global prevalence of obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008 and more than half a billion people in the world, 10 per cent of the male population and 14 per cent of women are now considered obese. The USA leads the global table, with China, Brazil and Mexico, the new emerging economic powerhouses, following. Global deaths due to obesity and overweight shot up from 2.6 million in 2005 to 3.4 million in 2010.

Given this situation, Consumers International and the Obesity Federation are to put forward a number of recommendations to the World Health Assembly, currently meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Among these are calls for regulations by governments to:

– make food manufacturers and processors put pictures on packaging depicting the damage done by obesity, just as cigarette manufacturers are forced to do on cigarette packs;

– reduce the levels of salt, saturated fats and sugar in food products;

– improve the nutritional quality of food provided to schools and hospitals;

– place stricter controls on advertising of food products, especially those aimed at children;

– remove artificial transfats from all food and drink products; and

– ensure regular reviews by governments of food prices.

The call by these global organizations reflects growing alarm about the health risks created by those whose pursuits of profits ignore the health of people. It is a very positive development and SIGN OF THE TIMES in which we live.