The WHO’s policy framework covers a wide range of health policies, including recommendations to tackle diet-related illness. It suggests introducing legislation to help curb consumption of unhealthy foods and provide informative labelling, as well as nutrient profiling and regulated marketing of food products, “requiring the food industry to take responsibility”.
Speaking at the launch of Malta’s Food and Nutrition Policy and Action Plan, WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab said: “I believe we should all ask ourselves the question: what happened to the colourful, balanced, environmentally friendly, highly protective, culturally meaningful and very unique Mediterranean diet?...We need to preserve it and bring it back to our tables, together with the old days’ levels of physical activity.”
Malta’s action plan includes measures to reduce salt and fat consumption through reformulation and public education efforts, a ban on trans fats, using price policies to promote healthier foods and reduce consumption of unhealthy products, restricting marketing of food to children, and improving dietary monitoring.
“In the context of this Action Plan of course measures to reduce childhood obesity deserve highlighting. It is important to note that to succeed they need the engagement of the whole society. All stakeholders need to rise to the challenge, and show good will and responsible behaviour,” Jakab said.
“Measures to promote healthier diets are not only good for health but will also boost the economy by increasing demand for certain types of products that need to be made available and affordable.”
Dietary factors outweigh all other risk factors for disease in all 53 countries in the WHO European region, with non-communicable disease accounting for eight out of ten deaths and nearly 80% of the disease burden.
More information on Malta's action plan is available online here.
Other European countries are also considering how to integrate the Health 2020 framework into their national health programmes, including in Poland, where public health experts held a conference in November to discuss the issue.