During the annual World Health Organization (WHO) summit today, a Belgian professor named Olivier de Schutter, who is affiliated with the United Nations warned that unhealthy diets are now posing a greater risk to public health than tobacco products.
He urged world leaders to work together and begin negotiating an agreement to stop the worldwide obesity epidemic by honing in on junk food. Such an undertaking was also carried out in 2005 when the WHO backed an initiative to reduce the amount of tobacco-related deaths.
The professor proposed a three-part plan to tackle the threat of unhealthy diets: regulating those that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, getting stricter about the rules behind junk food advertising, and taxing foods that are not healthy.
In an especially proactive move to curb the prevalence of unhealthy diets, de Schutter wants to do a thorough overhaul of farm subsidies. According to coverage about the event from Ecorazzi, the expert wants to make sure “consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.”
These measures intended to encourage people to move away from unhealthy diets are not new. In fact, the report de Schutter referred to at the conference today was one he wrote and published more than tw0 years ago. At that time, he warned how more than 300 million people are obese around the world, and one billion are overweight. The document also discussed how unhealthy diets can have domino effects for people who follow them. For example, when people adhere to diets characterized by too much salt and alcohol, they often also struggle with high blood pressure, which in turn raises the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Also, in many countries foods common to unhealthy diets are not only more readily available than nutritious foods, but also less expensive. While de Schutter clarified price is not the single factor that causes unhealthy diets to be continually popular, he did assert it is “one factor among others responsible for this situation.”
Steps have already been taken in other countries to make unhealthy diets less appealing, specifically in France, Finland, Hungary and Denmark. The data in the initial report that suggested taxation as one possible strategy also pointed to research suggesting that a ten-percent tax on soft drinks could make people eight to ten percent less likely to buy them.
Although you might be hard pressed to find a person in modern society who doesn’t think obesity is a problem, the kinds of measures put forth in the presentation will certainly require a team effort to make it so people are not so reliant upon and lured by unhealthy diets.
[Image Credit: Angela Aurelio]