'It's time to deal with junk food,' says UN expert

(Photo: REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst)Visitors purchase lunch from a vendor along the National Mall ahead of the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday in Washington, July 3, 2013. Security will be tighter than ever in several U.S. cities during Independence Day celebrations this week, which will see some of the largest public gatherings in the country since the deadly Boston Marathon bombings in April.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, has blamed 'junk food' for the global obesity epidemic.

In a report to the U.N. Human Right Council on Wednesday he urged the international community to deal with the alarming increase in deaths from diet-related diseases.

Presenting his report to rights council, Grover warned about disturbing figures, according to which 2.1 billion people in the world are overweight or obese, and at least 2.8 million die every year because of their weight.

"The culprit is 'junk food'," Grover said. "Containing high levels of sugar, salt, trans-fats and saturated fats, this 'junk' has unfortunately replaced healthy foods in our diets."

He noted, "Junk food is not a simple public health issue or a medical concern, it poses a serious challenge to our lives, our health and our rights."

Grover said Junk food is primarily responsible for the burgeoning rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases across the world.

Policies of globalization, market consolidation by transnational companies and supermarket chains, skewed foreign direct investment, aggressive advertising of ultra-processed foods and changes in our lifestyles have driven the social transition to unhealthy diets, said the U.N. expert.

To reverse the obesity epidemic, Grover urged States to implement their human rights obligations, not only by providing nutritious food but also by instituting measures to reduce the burden of diseases linked to junk food.

In particular, the Special Rapporteur recommended that States formulate multi-faceted policies with a view to:

● promoting the availability and accessibility of healthy and nutritious foods;

● developing food and nutrition guidelines for healthy diets;

● ensuring that accurate information related to healthy diets is made available, thus allowing consumers to make informed choices;

● increasing awareness about healthier food options;

● regulating marketing and advertising of ''junk food';

● adopting consumer-friendly labelling of food products; and

● establishing accountability mechanisms for violations of the right to health.

Grover stressed , "the key role of the food industry in addressing the deleterious trend of unhealthy foods" and urged the industry to refrain from activities undermining people's right to health.

Where legislation is in place to discourage unhealthy foods and promote healthier options, Grover urged food and beverage companies to comply with such laws and stop activity undermining them.

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