New Zealand leads world's health experts to join fight against obesity

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-11-19 16:18:42

 A new international network of public health experts from developed and emerging economies will hold governments and the food industry accountable for levels of obesity, the New Zealand organizer said Monday.

Obesity prevention expert Professor Boyd Swinburn, of the University of Auckland School of Population Health, has organized a meeting of 23 experts on monitoring food composition, food marketing, food labeling and food pricing.

Participants included representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, universities in New Zealand, Australia and North America, and from low and middle-income countries, including Brazil, India, China, Mexico, South Africa and Fiji.

The network known as INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support) was meeting in Bellagio, Italy, from Nov. 19 to 23, said a statement from the University of Auckland.

It would aim to increase the accountability of governments and the food industry in improving the world's food environments, by monitoring the nutrient content of foods globally, the marketing of food to children, food prices, and government and private sector policies around food and obesity.

The members of the network were driven by a collective goal to tackle the alarmingly high rates of obesity and its related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

"We will be collecting benchmarking data so that governments and the food industry can be measured against reasonable standards for progress on reducing the unhealthiness of current food environments because it is mainly these food environments which are driving up obesity throughout the world," Swinburn said in the statement.

"Over the past few decades, we have seen a dramatic increase in the supply of cheap, tasty, high-calorie foods that are very heavily marketed," said Swinburn.

The United Nations, the WHO and public health groups had called for governments and the food industry to take urgent steps to improve food environments and prevent obesity.

"There are no good systems in place to measure what governments and the food industry are doing in relation to food environments. And there are no good standards in place to benchmark their policies and actions against good practice. And so there is no way of knowing if their efforts are hitting the mark," said Swinburn.

"In most cases, governments are leaving the food industry to regulate their own efforts to improve food environments, and this is clearly failing to result in the improvements. There is currently no good way of comparing the foods available for sale in different countries and across time. There is also no good data on the relative prices of healthy and unhealthy foods in different countries," he said.

"In addition, no-one is keeping track of the activities of the food industry that have important influences on the food supply, such as their lobbying of governments and the political donations they make. This is where INFORMAS will step in."

At the meeting, the group would aim to have in place benchmarks for measuring the progress of governments and the food industry and finalize an approach to monitoring the healthiness of food environments in different countries.

The first set of data was expected next year, Swinburn said.

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