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Governments must regulate to curb obesity: IASO

"Voluntary initiatives are failing to protect children," the IASO says

Governments must regulate unhealthy foods in the same way as alcohol and tobacco to tackle rising levels of obesity, urges a report from the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO).

The association prepared its set of policy proposals ahead of a United Nations meeting later this year, at which governments will outline their progress on reducing obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – many of which may have links with diet – including heart disease, some cancers and diabetes.

IASO director of policy Dr Tim Lobstein said: “In isolation governments are reluctant to undertake market interventions as they don’t want to be seen to restrict people’s freedoms. However there is a good case for clear traffic light labelling on products, for banning junk food marketing to children, and for adjusting the existing subsidies and taxes to increase the consumption of healthier foods.”

The organisation cited WHO director general, Dr Margaret Chan, who likened the food industry to the tobacco industry in July  and said: “Let me remind you. Not one single country has managed to turn around its obesity epidemic in all age groups. This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.”

What about voluntary initiatives?

Governments and the food industry alike have been under increasing pressure to take action to tackle obesity and diet-related illness, especially as obesity has overtaken smoking as the number one cause of poor health in many countries. Industry has responded with a number of voluntary initiatives, including marketing restrictions, and voluntary pledges to reduce calories, portion sizes, and sugar, fat and salt.

The IASO document acknowledged that voluntary agreements could be effective, but added: “We know of no evidence to show they are cheaper and more effective than compulsory approaches. In the case of marketing of foods and beverages to children there is increasing evidence that the voluntary initiatives are failing to protect children and that stronger measures are needed.”

Aimed at governments

Lobstein told FoodNavigator that the IASO’s call was aimed at government health departments.

“[It] provides guidance on how they can strengthen their position: social marketing to raise awareness and change the narrative, cost-benefit analyses to show that intervention is economically beneficial, stronger Public Health Acts which permit interventions in markets and which put greater onus on ministers to take action, and monitoring bodies to hold the stakeholders to account,” he said.

He added that governments could also ensure company costs incurred through lobbying were not tax deductible.

“Why should the public purse help subsidise actions which promote private interests and especially, in this case, undermine public interests?

“…Of course there will be push-back from commercial operators, that is their job. But it has to be countered, not only by changing the narrative through social marketing but also by reducing industry pressure on governments, especially their lobbying and party-funding where they buy influence.”

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Voluntary initiatives are the only ones that work

Those who desire to change their body composition (let's ditch the "weight loss" tag) have found that the high fat low carb. and Paleo approaches give them the solution they're looking for. Let's get real. The demonization of fat and the low-fat mantra complete with marketing hype and government endorsement (not to mention that imbecilic lipid hypothesis)has created a monster. What's worse is that they keep repackaging the status quo and flogging the same nonsense over again while trying to silence researchers who don't play the game.

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Posted by Laurie Willberg
10 March 2014 | 16h59

Industry muscle

The food industry has controlled the definition of acceptably healthy food by defining the food pyramid. Marion Nestle has documented this trend. Unfortunately, industry has the economic power to place its surrogates in key positions, ensuring that the government is not able to protect the best interests of its citizens. This has been exacerbated by the Citizens United ruling, giving more influence to those controlling big money.
While it may be desirable to limit corporate food just as corporate tobacco, it would be a herculean effort with unimaginable complexity. Rather than simply bad tobacco, it would require us to define what elements of many different foods are unhealthy. Most people don't want to believe they are eating bad food, and don't want to be told when they do so.
This battle would be like challenging the right of food stamp recipients to buy the "foods" they desire, but ramping it up to the entire world population. Resistance is guaranteed. The real food movement needs to come up with creative campaigns to offer a carrot of health. In the long run perhaps peak oil and peak water will push prices to where local foods become the healthy default of necessity.

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Posted by Vance Corum
14 January 2014 | 18h53

GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM!

The government and it's support of BIG BUSINESS has reduced the amount of TRUE NUTRITIONAL information to MEDIA BIAS SOUND BITS and profit hungry misinformation. It has allowed ingredients, medical devices and drugs on the market without proper third party assessment. It has made every U.S. citizen a science experiment! We have "hip" replacements with metal parts which have never been tested - causing enormous harm and pain and suffering....Teens being put on strong medications because they can't sit still in class? I repeat: The government is aiding the out of control greed in Food and Drug companies.

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Posted by DEB
10 January 2014 | 16h47