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WHO consults global food industry


Talks on solutions to combat the growing global incidence of chronic disease continued this week when officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) met in Geneva with representatives of some 30 food, beverage and producer associations.

The meeting is the last in a series of consultations held by the WTO to develop input for the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, due to be presented in May 2004.

The WHO caused quite a stir when it published a report in April on the relationship between diet, nutrition and physical activity to chronic diseases, suggesting that no more than 10 per cent of our daily energy intake come from sugar. At the time, the US sugar industry vehemently responded, passing the report off as incomplete and lacking strong scientific evidence.

But according to Dr Derek Yach, WHO executive director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, the meeting this week was "very useful and constructive.

"We believe the industry is willing to work on raising consumer awareness of the need both for healthy, balanced diets, and for overall energy balance in terms of energy intake and physical activity," he continued.

Dr Yach did, however, take the opportunity to respond to the criticisms made in April about the WHO report, when he commented: "We are confident about the science on the contribution of nutrition - and especially the role of saturated fats, sugars and salt and excessive consumption - to the major chronic diseases."

Representing the €600 billion European food and drink industry at the WHO roundtable event this week, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) backed Yach's words, stating that "efforts aimed at reducing the prevalence of obesity and related diseases must focus both on reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity".

Cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory disease, obesity and other noncommunicable conditions now account for 59 per cent of the 56.5 million global deaths annually, and almost half, or 45.9 per cent, of the global burden of disease, according to WHO figures. The majority of chronic disease problems are now occur in developing countries. Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use are among the leading causes.

With the last of its series of consultations over, WHO must now wrap up the final strategy, which it aims to make available by the end of the year. Recommendations from all its consultations will be posted on the WHO website .