In her latest speech to the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, World Health Organization Director General Dr. Margaret Chan pulls no punches when it comes to the food and beverage industries.
- “The complexities of childhood obesity make it an especially stubborn problem to address. The science is also complex. Weaving together the various strands from different lines of study requires great skill. The issues that need to be addressed are multiple, inter-related, and sometimes highly-charged, politically and economically. No stand-alone intervention or single-pronged strategy will work.”
- You signaled the group of countries at greatest risk: those undergoing rapid socioeconomic and nutritional transitions, where evidence on effective interventions is often patchy or non-existent.”
- “You placed things in perspective. You identified many factors that help explain why the prevalence of infant, childhood, and adolescent obesity is increasing in all countries, but you singled out one particularly pervasive driving force: the globalized marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages. In fact, you described the evidence of its impact on childhood obesity as “unequivocal”. That, too, clears the air.”
- But you also issued a warning: voluntary initiatives are not likely to be sufficient. To be successful, efforts aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages need support from regulatory and statutory approaches. As noted, the impact of taxation measures on purchasing behaviour is well-supported by the evidence.”
- “Childhood obesity does not arise from lifestyle choices made by the child. It arises from environments created by society and supported by government policies. The argument that obesity is the result of personal lifestyle choices, often used to excuse governments from any responsibility to intervene, cannot apply to childhood obesity.”
- “The biggest harm comes from the marketing of sugar-rich non-alcoholic beverages and ultra-processed, energy-dense, and nutrient-poor foods, which are often the cheapest and most readily available, especially in poorer communities.”
- “These industries seek voluntary agreements and strongly oppose regulatory approaches. Both industries are powerful economic operators. Economic power readily translates into political power. Let them make their promises. Welcome their proposals to reformulate their products. Then watch very closely and hold them accountable for what actually happens.”
What a breath of fresh air! A health organization that provides much-needed perspective on industry’s role, rather than breathlessly come to its defense and attempt to justify its actions.
If only the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics could bring itself to deliver this type of strong leadership. Is it too much to ask?