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Expert notes that regulation can help combat obesity and diabetes

Washington, D.C., 26 August 2011 (PAHO/WHO)—Regulation and legislation may be more effective in combating conditions like obesity or diabetes, but this will require “courage” to confront the interests of the corporations in the food industry, said Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, in his talk at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) on 25 August.


Photo PAHO/David Spitz

In a presentation on whether self-regulation works for the food industry, Dr. Brownell, an expert in nutrition and obesity, explained that the industry is waging a vigorous campaign to avoid regulation. In his view, there are many similarities between the way it operates and the action taken by the tobacco companies, which for years managed to avoid legislation regulating that industry.

“At one time, in country after country, the tobacco industry argued against regulation, and governments perhaps reacted late. Is this now happening with the food industry?” he asked.

Dr. Brownell noted that work to educate people about good nutrition has proven difficult and costly due to the time involved. He maintained that government regulation can bring about the necessary reforms but will require taking on the food industry.

As an illustration, he commented that a person in the United States consumes an average of 50 gallons (189 liters) of sweetened beverages each year year. He showed that the consumption of sweetened beverages has increased significantly while milk consumption has decreased. Similar trends can be seen in Latin American countries such as Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, he added.

Dr. Brownell mentioned that taxing these beverages, for example, could help lower consumption and bring in revenue for programs to combat obesity. This has been discussed at the government level in several cities and countries in the Americas, and “the food industry is worried” that it may happen, he said.

Conditions like diabetes and obesity are chronic noncommunicable diseases, which are the leading cause of death and disability in the Americas.

On 19-20 September of this year, Heads of State will come together at the United Nations High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, where they will have an opportunity to discuss the social and economic impact of these conditions. The results of these discussions will be used to draft and approve a final document outlining the action that the countries should take to deal with the problems caused by these diseases.

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