Given the U.S. government’s focus on preventing childhood obesity, you may think it would be ultrasupportive of any efforts to further this goal.
Some nutrition experts are questioning the government’s attitude toward the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, drafted by internationally known scientists for the World Health Organization (WHO). The strategy makes numerous public health recommendations targeted at stopping the global obesity epidemic. Recommendations suggest methods for altering consumer behavior, dietary patterns and physical activity, as well as ways to address food advertising, packaging, labeling, pricing, preparation and other practices that affect food consumption and nutrition.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Bush administration is pressuring WHO to revise its recommendations by emphasizing “personal responsibility.” CSPI contends that the administration stresses personal responsibility to the virtual exclusion of strong governmental action on nutrition, and points out that the administration is largely silent on many food-industry tactics that help fuel the obesity epidemic, even when those tactics are aimed squarely at children.
Others agree with CSPI’s condemnation of the government’s actions in relation to obesity control. In an editorial in the January 23 New York Times, Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, and Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, criticized the stance of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services on a joint report issued by WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The report, “The Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases,” suggests a number of dietary changes for individuals, including limits on sugar consumption, as well as policies that might make it easier for people to eat more healthfully. Brownell and Nestle wrote: “The report comes to obvious conclusions. Threatened by such conclusions, food companies and their friends in government try to pick apart the science, ridicule the process and delay action, just as the cigarette industry did for so many years.”
However, food industries maintain that food itself is not the enemy. If WHO’s membership votes to support the report’s recommendations in May, governments that want to use the recommendations to reduce obesity can do so. Following them is not mandatory.