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WHO anti obesity stretegy attacked by sugar industry { May 20 2004 }

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Sugar industry threatens WHO's anti-obesity strategy
By Frances Williams in Geneva
Published: May 20 2004 5:00 | Last Updated: May 20 2004 5:00

Vigorous behind-the-scenes lobbying by the sugar industry threatens to derail a landmark anti-obesity strategy due to be adopted this week by the World Health Organisation, despite expressions of support for the strategy from US and European food groups.

Health activists and officials said the sugar lobby had succeeded in mobilising sugar-producing countries, notably in the Caribbean and in Africa, to oppose the WHO plan. They have been joined by some other poor nations to argue that a focus on obesity threatens to overshadow their immediate concerns of hunger and malnourishment.

"There's a real chance that the sugar lobby could sabotage this. We're very worried," said one health official. Under WHO procedures, adoption of the strategy requires consensus of the 192 member states attending the annual world health assembly in Geneva this week.

The non-binding strategy recommends people to take more exercise and reduce their intake of fats, sugar and salt, which have been linked to the global epidemic of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Although it no longer lays down specific consumption targets after earlier objections by the US and sugar producers, the final version of the strategy still urges governments to discourage consumption of unhealthy foods, suggesting they consider fiscal measures and curbs on advertising to children.

The proposed strategy has the strong support of European nations and a number of developing countries including South Africa. The US said earlier this week that "as now drafted" it could serve as a "sound blueprint for action".

The Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union said they supported adoption of the plan, calling it "an important step forward in improving nutrition, promoting physical activity and combating obesity worldwide".

However, on the first day of debate on the strategy yesterday at the world health assembly, Guyana, speaking for Caribbean countries, said sugar producers could "reap disaster" from international diktats to curb individuals' sugar consumption. Along with Mauritius it also attacked the report on which the strategy is based as unscientific.

At the suggestion of Brazil, the world's largest cane sugar producer, which says it also has concerns about trade aspects, the main countries involved were meeting last night to try to overcome obstacles to agreement before the debate resumes today.

More than 1bn adults worldwide are overweight and at least 300m are clinically obese, according to WHO.

Heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other non-communicable diseases now account for 60 per cent of all deaths, but the majority can be prevented by improved diet, more exercise and stopping smoking, WHO says.

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WHO anti obesity stretegy attacked by sugar industry { May 20 2004 }

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