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WHO debates industry’s role in child nutrition plan

By Sarah Hills, 27-Jan-2012

Related topics: Market Trends, Nutrition labelling

The involvement of the private sector in child nutrition has proved contentious at a recent meeting of the World Health Organisation’s executive board (EB).

The WHO is developing a comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, which it sees as “a critical component” of a global multi-sectoral nutrition framework.

The draft was debated at the EB 130th session and among the main issues was the level of private sector involvement and food marketing, according to the group Global Health Watch (GHW).

In a summary of the discussions relating to nutrition, GHW concluded that “major concerns remain on the role of the private sector and the need to keep such actions at a community level”.

It said that the Papua New Guinea delegate “deplored the use of private public partnerships to push interventions saying that market based goods tend to have higher concentration of unhealthy substances”.

Meanwhile Estonia, on behalf of the EU, highlighted the need to include private sector effort.

The People’s Health Movement also submitted comments to the EB about the draft, saying a “warning should be included about food and beverage industry involvement”.

It adds: “Corporate‐sponsored nutrition education materials present an even more complex problem than straightforward advertising because they blur the boundaries between marketing and education.”

Targets

The WHO’s Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition draft comprehensive implementation plan lists global targets, one of which is for “no increase in childhood overweight by 2022”.

It also has a list of actions that should be jointly implemented by Member States and international partners.

Among them is “to stimulate development policies and programmes outside the health sector that recognize and include nutrition”, such as involving agriculture and food processing, among others.

Regarding food manufacture, it states that “the nutrient profile, including better micronutrient content and reduced content of salt, sugar and saturated and trans-fatty acids, needs to be improved”.

Similarly, it highlights the importance of trade measures, taxes and subsidies as a way of guaranteeing access and enabling healthy dietary choices.

These, it says “can be powerful tools when associated with adequate information for consumers through nutrition labelling and responsible food marketing, and with social marketing and promotion of healthy diets and healthy lifestyles.”

A WHO spokesman told FoodNavigator.com that the EB was “overall satisfied” with the plan and “some suggestions were given on intersectoral approaches, prioritisation of interventions and handling potential conflicts of interest”.

The EB has now asked the Secretariat for more information on the targets proposed in the action plan and there will be a web based consultation on this subject.

The spokesman added that this would lead to a revision of the draft plan for final discussion at the 65th World health Assembly, from 21 to 26 May.