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Health Chiefs Advocate Slimmer Lifestyles To Counter Disease

Posted - May 22, 2004 at 7:20 a.m.



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GENEVA, May 22 (AFP) - Health chiefs launched a landmark global campaign against unhealthy diets and lifestyles on Saturday to stifle the surge in deadly chronic diseases such as heart trouble and diabetes.

The World Health Organisation's "global strategy", which calls for a concerted effort by governments and industry to promote better diets and more exercise, was adopted unanimously by its 192 members states at the end of their annual assembly.

The anti-obesity drive aims for a "substantial" reduction in deaths through a "healthy weight", less fat, sugar and limited salt consumption and 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise.

The WHO regards high cholesterol caused by excessively fatty foods, high blood pressure and low fruit and vegetable intake as key risk factors in many illnesses that can be avoided or tempered.

About 60 percent of deaths are caused by major non-communicable diseases, including cancers, according to WHO.

That proportion is expected to rise to 73 percent by 2020, notably because of "a profound shift" in developing countries, as well as ageing populations, the strategy noted.

Chronic illnesses account for about 47 percent of the global burden of disease and will exceed infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined within the next 16 years, WHO predicted.

The original WHO strategy first proposed last year has been heavily watered down to avoid a head-on clash with countries where sugar is a staple agricultural commodity, as well as parts of the food industry and the United States.

"The major concerns that came up have been anxiety on the part of developing countries that this strategy could potentially have trade-restrictive implications," said WHO spokesman David Porter.

"Some member states have felt uneasy that it may supplant work being done against under-nutrition," he added.

The WHO had wanted to recommend five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, but that was removed.

The strategy was also revised to shift some of the burden for action away from governments or industry and to place greater emphasis on individual responsibility, largely at the request of the United States.

"The strategy seems to place the focus on individual choice and lifestyle," said the chief health official from the Palau Islands, Stevenson Kuartei.

"This is not always easy for many people in our country, in the light of extensive commercialisation of processed food," he added.

The WHO suggested that governments could "encourage the reduction of the salt content of processed foods... and the sugar content of beverages and snacks".

Amid fears by health professionals that advertising encourages the consumption of junk food and overly sweetened soft drinks, the WHO urged the food industry to adopt responsible marketing aimed at children.

Agricultural policies needed to be adjusted in favour of healthy nutrition, it added.

Sugar and salt producers and traders have objected to the campaign, dismissing the evidence behind some of the health claims and warning that the strategy did not take into account the economic implications.

But on Saturday two key industry associations in Europe and the United States welcomed the launch of the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

"Our member companies are moving full steam ahead to develop a greater variety of healthy and nutritious foods, (and) provide additional information to help consumers manage their diets," the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the European Union Food and Drink Manufacturers Association (CIAA) said.

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COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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