A Consumers International (CI) poll suggests that huge numbers of the public are unaware of the major impact that unhealthy diets are having on global public health. More than 80% of people underestimate the global impact of unhealthy diets when compared to other causes.
The research across six countries found that on average, only 18% of people correctly identified that unhealthy diets contribute to more deaths than war, smoking, consumption of alcohol, HIV/AIDS or malaria.
With the World Health Assembly (WHA) due to meet in Geneva on Monday, the research also shows strong international support for actions to help consumers choose a healthier diet.
Actions such as reducing high levels of fat, sugar and salt in everyday foods (61% strongly support, 34% support), regulating the marketing of food high in fat, sugar and salt to children (55% strongly support, 37% support) and giving consumers more information about the levels of fat, sugar and salt in food (67% strongly support, 30% support) all received very high levels of backing.
These results are perhaps unsurprising given the importance that people attach to ensuring they and their families eat a healthy diet (71% ‘very important’, 27% ‘quite important’).
Amanda Long, Director-General of Consumers International, commented:
"Our survey suggests that few people understand the scale of the health crisis we are facing."
Unhealthy diets contribute to 11 million deaths per year and rank above tobacco as the world's leading cause of these preventable non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Obesity along costs the world economy $2 trillion a year.
CI has been campaigning for a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets.
Using a similar mechanism to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, it would involve World Health Organization (WHO) Member States committing to a framework of policies that would include:
- restrictions on marketing of unhealthy food to children
- better nutrition labelling
- reformulation of processed food to reduce fat, sugar and salt
- use of fiscal tools to support the consumption of healthy food
Amanda Long added: “Since 1980 the prevalence of obesity worldwide has nearly doubled and Type 2 diabetes incidence has soared with unhealthy diets the largest contributor to the global problem."
"We need to urgently address this issue and Consumers International is demanding the World Health Assembly supports the development of a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets.”
CI will launch an online counter at 9:30 CET, 18 May 2015 to show the number of deaths related to unhealthy diets, and the global cost of obesity, since the opening of the WHA.