Unhealthy diets greater threat to health than tobacco, says UN expert

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)The United Nations special expert on the right to food says support needs to be given to local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods. Fruit stall photographed in Salzburg Austria on August 16, 2013

GENEVA - The UN independent expert on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, has called for a new global agreement to regulate unhealthy diets, saying dangers related to advancing obesity are being ignored.

"Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco," said U.N. special rapporteur De Schutter in a statement Monday.

"Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed." he said.

De Schutter was speaking shortly before the launch on May 21 by Consumers International in Geneva of its new recommendations: "Towards a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets."

De Schutter recalled that, despite increasingly worrying signs and well-identified priority actions, the international community continues to pay insufficient attention to the worsening epidemic of obesity and unhealthy diets.

"It has been two years since my report on nutrition and the right to food, and 10 years since the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health.

"Yet obesity continues to advance - and diabetes, heart disease and other health complications along with it. The warning signs are not being heard," he said.

In his 2012 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the special rU.apporteur identified five priority actions to address the issues of obesity and unhealthy diets:

1) Taxing unhealthy products;

2) Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar;

3) Cracking down on junk food advertising;

4) Overhauling misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others; and

5) Supporting local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.

"Attempts to promote healthy diets will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right," he added.

"Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are made available, and how they are marketed," said De Schutter.

The U.N. expert also drew attention to the role of breast-milk in infant nutrition, welcoming the recent moves towards regulating the advertising of milk formula in Hong Kong, the Philippines and other countries.

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