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Obesity v tobacco: Experts say fatty foods should be labeled like cigarettes

Published time: May 20, 2014 11:12
Reuters / Simon Newman

Reuters / Simon Newman

Food packaging should reflect the damage the product could have on the consumer’s health, international groups say. Experts are calling for stricter regulation to avert a repeat of the “catastrophic global health crisis caused by smoking.”

Consumers International and the World Obesity Federation have published a statement urging governments to take on corporate interests to beat the increasing number of diet-related deaths. Stressing that unhealthy eating has now surpassed tobacco as the number one cause of preventable non-communicable diseases, it calls for a tobacco-style reaction to the crisis.

This could include pictures of the damage caused by obesity on product packaging, similar to the ones used on cigarette packs. Experts say the dramatic increase in obesity-related illnesses over the last few years is largely due to the lack of government intervention.

According to figures from the World Obesity Federation, the number of obese people doubled between 1980 and 2008, bringing the total to over half a billion.

“The scale of the impact of unhealthy food on consumer health is comparable to the impact of cigarettes. The food and beverage industry has dragged its feet on meaningful change and governments have felt unable or unwilling to act,” said Consumers International Director General Amanda Long.

The two organizations argue that if obesity were an infectious disease then billions of dollars would have been shelled out to stem its spread. But as it stands governments have been reticent to take a stand against corporate interests.

They believe that world governments should make a commitment to observe a number of recommendations. These include “placing stricter controls on food marketing, improving the provision of nutrition information, requiring reformulation of unhealthy food products, raising standards for food provided in public institutions and using economic tools to influence consumption patterns.”

The two bodies will present a list of formal recommendations to the Global Convention to protect and promote healthy diets at the World Health Assembly in Geneva later this week.

The new recommendations follow a UN World Health Organization report published in February that said greater government control on the food industry could decrease, and even reverse, the global obesity epidemic.

“Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” said Roberto De Vogli of the University of California, who led the study.

Currently America has the largest population of obese individuals, closely followed by China, Brazil and Mexico. Experts have urged governments to follow in the footsteps of countries like Denmark which introduced legislation to restrict the use of trans fats.

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