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Joint US/EU Limits on Food Marketing Urged to Combat Obesity Crisis

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A coalition of more than 60 American and European consumer advocacy organizations is urging governments on both sides of the Atlantic to tackle multinational food marketing practices that contribute to obesity and diet-related disease by supporting adoption and implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health. The WHO strategy is scheduled to be approved at a meeting of the agency’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, May 17-21.

Limits on food advertising and marketing directed at children, changes in school foods, improvements in food labelling, and mass education campaigns are among the elements of a comprehensive public health program called for in the WHO Global Strategy. Such steps are needed to combat rising obesity rates in the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), according to the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum of consumer advocacy groups organized to promote consumer interests in US/EU policy-making.

The WHO’s draft strategy is supported by practically all members of the EU but is facing strong opposition from the US, which has called on the agency to emphasize the role of the individual over government intervention as the primary means to combat obesity.

"The US seems more concerned with placating powerful food companies than with supporting serious proposals to combat obesity, a condition that aggravates rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes on both sides of the Atlantic," said Bruce Silverglade of the Washington, D.C. based Center for Science in the Public Interest and US co-chair of the TACD’s Food Working Group.

"A range of measures is needed to tackle rising rates of obesity and diet-related disease. Food advertising and marketing are important aspects of the problem. We share the WHO’s view that irresponsible practices can have a negative effect on health and should be controlled. For example, advertising of foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt should be restricted during television programming commonly viewed by significant numbers of children," stated Sue Davies of the UK Consumers’ Association and EU co-chair of the TACD’s Food Working Group.

The TACD recently convened an international conference on obesity and public policy in Brussels in February. The conference, "Generation Excess - Transatlantic Policy Approaches to Tackling Obesity," featured speakers from the WHO, the European Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Department of State, the Finnish National Public Health Institute, the UK Food Standards Agency, the government of Quebec, Canada, and food policy experts from the academic and consumer communities in the US and Europe.

Findings from the conference include recommendations to governments to support the WHO Global Strategy. The conference concluded that government intervention, as well as individual action, is needed to solve the obesity epidemic.

The TACD was formed in 1998. Its aim is to provide a formal mechanism for US and EU consumer representatives to contribute towards transatlantic regulatory harmonization, political negotiations, and trade agreements.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).