Despite international campaigns to end the spread of obesity, the World Health Organization still estimates that over 10 percent of the world’s adult population is obese. During the first day of the WHO’s annual assembly in Geneva, United Nations health expert Olivier de Shutter called for a more concerted global effort to regulate unhealthy diets in hopes of curbing the obesity epidemic.

“Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed,” de Schutter said in a statement. “Attempts to promote healthy diets will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right. Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are made available, and how they are marketed.” 

During the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012, de Shutter recognized five priority actions countries can use to reduce the number of people who fall victim to unhealthy diets and obesity. They include taxes on unhealthy products, regulating foods high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, controlling junk food advertisements, fixing agriculture funding practices that make some ingredients cheaper than others, and lending support to local food production to give consumers easier access to healthy, fresh and nutritious food.  

“It has been two years since my report on nutrition and the right to food, and ten years since the World Health Organization launched its Global Strategy on Diet Physical Activity and Health,” de Shutter explained. “Yet obesity continues to advance - and diabetes, heart disease and other health complications along with it. The warning signs are not being heard.” 

According to the WHO’s statistics from 2008, 1.4 billion adults were overweight including 200 million men and 300 million women who were considered obese. In 2012, over 40 million children under the age of five were considered overweight or obese. An estimated 65 percent of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity lead to more deaths than underweight. To end the growing rate of childhood obesity, de Shutter also drew attention to the importance of breast-milk in infant nutrition.

“Governments should move forward with these measures, which are essential to ensure that people are protected from aggressive misinformation campaigns,” de Shutter added. “They are also crucial to implement the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly recommendations. Suggestions that these steps could violate World Trade Organization law by restricting international trade are simply false.”