Monday, 19 May 2014

The time has come for a global convention to promote healthy diets

CI food expert Anna Glayzer sets out the case for targeting junk food with the kind of public health strategy used to fight smoking.

This week marks the ten year anniversary of the World Health Organization Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health.

The stated overall goal of that strategy was: "To promote and protect health by guiding the development of an enabling environment for sustainable actions at individual, community, national and global levels that, when taken together, will lead to reduced disease and death rates related to unhealthy diet and physical inactivity."

The Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health (or DPAS, as it is often abbreviated to) was a significant step forward for that time but it is now clear that much more is needed. 

Since 2004 obesity rates, along with diet related diseases like diabetes, have continued to climb steadily. In 2005 approximately 1.6 billion adults (age15+) were overweight and at least 400 million adults were obese.

By 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.

These rates are climbing far faster in developing countries. Diet related ill health now globally outranks tobacco as a cause of death.

In 2011, we reached the point where one person dies from diabetes every seven seconds.

Figures also show that 44% of the diabetes burden is attributable to overweight and obesity.

On 19 May,  CI published Recommendations Towards a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets.

The Recommendations are a joint initiative with World Obesity Federation, developed in consultation with our members and with public health experts around the world.  

We are calling on governments to make a binding commitment to introduce a raft of policy measures designed to help consumers make healthier choices and improve nutrition security for everyone.

The measures that we have included are not new. In developing the Recommendations, we drew on a growing body of existing policy packages such World Cancer Research Fund’s Nourishing Framework.
We call for:
  • tighter controls on marketing of unhealthy food;
  • for better provision of nutrition information to consumers;
  • for healthy food to be served in public institutions;
  • and for the use of economic tools to influence consumption patterns.  
Some countries have already implemented or partially implemented some of the measures we recommend.

What would be new about a global convention to protect and promote healthy diets would be the scale, ambition and level of co-ordination it would entail.

It would amount to the world taking the inpact of unhealthy diets as seriously as the impact of tobacco.

Of course we know that food is not the same as tobacco. There are however, some strong and often drawn parralels, in terms of impact and in terms of the actions of the protagonists.

Back in 1998, then director of the WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said: ”The tobacco habit is extensively communicated!  It is communicated through the media, the entertainment industry, and most directly through the marketing and promotion of specific products.

“Global trade in tobacco has increased markedly over the last few years.  Direct foreign investment by multinationals in developing countries has also increased…Tobacco control cannot succeed solely through the efforts of individual governments, national nongovernmental organizations and media advocates.  We need an international response to an international problem.”

We recognise that the solution to the problem of unhealthy diets is complex. Our publication is not intended to offer a ready-to-wear global convention.

Hence we have called it Recommendations towards a global convention. We intend it as a conversation starter. It is however, a conversation that urgently needs to be had.  Inaction is costing millions of lives.

If the average adult reads 250 words per minute; in the time it took you to read this blog, at least 20 people will have died from diabetes. It’s time to take unhealthy diets seriously.


  1. Thank you very much. Please note that governments around the world are taxing different products Soda (USA), Ice Cream, sugar, hi salt &hi sugar, junk food to stop obesity There were ban on big soda cups in New york. There is no single Global framework that covers all the health related food taxes. Further the effect of proposed Green house gas tax on food items should also be taken in to account.

    In addition to global framework for food taxes, we need mechanisms to cut down the food consumption and the corresponding health care costs. Cutting down food consumption should be at one's own will and there are cases where people have voluntarily cut down food consumption with the improvement of Consciousness or self awareness/mindfulness with practice of mind body techniques like yoga. Yoga and meditation generally improve restful alertness by which an individual is aware of his own food consumption patterns. We need global best practices that reduce food consumption while improving the well being of a person.

    Reference Working paper: