- Posted by Admin
- On January 30, 2017
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- child nutrition, food advertising, health, Nutrition Labeling, policies, public health, salt reduction, Soda Tax, WHO
World Health Organization
Advancing the right to health: The Vital Role of Law
The World Health Organization (WHO) works alongside governments and other partners to ensure the highest attainable level of health for all people all over the world. They work to combat diseases, including noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Through this work, the WHO has recommended that a large part of reducing the prevalence of these diseases is prevention, which encompasses nutrition.
On January 16th, 2016, WHO released a report titled “Advancing the right to health: The Vital Role of Law”, which included detailed advice for nations to enact or reform public health laws that will advance the right to health and offer conditions to live healthy lives. The purpose of the document is to address how laws can be useful tools to improve health at the national and global levels and, furthermore, to discuss the importance of reforming public health laws. WHO exclaims this report is not a prescriptive tool, as each nation is different, but more of a piece of advice. It incorporates:
- Reasoning behind reforming public health laws,
- Suggestions on how to reform such laws,
- Priorities of public health laws, and
- Examples of effective public health laws from around the world.
Furthermore, the report called out specific strategies to improve public health. Chapter 16 of this report was specific to this topic and covered, for example, the concept of influencing food reformulation to reduce content of high-sodium foods in order to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Chapter 16: Legal responses to poor nutrition: undernutrition, overweight and obesity
Chapter 16 discussed in depth, legal responses to poor nutrition that can help reduce diet-related diseases. They highlighted three domains for food policy to touch on:
- Food environment,
- Food Production System, and
- Consumer Behavior.
WHO gave examples of potential strategies for policies, including:
- Imposing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and on foods that are high in saturated fat, added salt and/or added sugar.
- Limiting food advertisements for foods high in saturated fat, salt or added sugar that are often directed towards children.
- Enacting nutrition labeling laws to inform consumers of ingredients and nutrients in an easy to read manner, preferably with a standardized serving amount to allow consumers to make comparisons. Some potential labeling laws include:
- Front of package labeling can be a helpful way for consumers to make quick healthy choices,
- Warning labels, such as “high salt”, can help consumers be aware of high amounts of concerning nutrients or ingredients,
- Preventing deceptive claims by only allowing health claims on foods that meet good nutrition standards, and
- Menu labeling that can help consumers understand the correct amount of calories in a food item.
- Ensuring that healthy foods are sold at schools. WHO gave the example of the National School Lunch Program in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ensures healthy affordable meals are sold at school during breakfast and lunch.
- Developing mandatory food standards or restricting the use or sale of specific food items by:
- Eliminating food items from the food supply, for example those that contain trans fats,
- Making it mandatory to fortify certain foods to reduce micronutrient deficiencies, and
- Reducing over-consumed nutrients such as salt, sugar and saturated fat through regulatory measures, such as not allowing fruit juice to include added sugar.
- Salt reduction initiatives. WHO estimated that overconsumption of salt causes over 3.1 million deaths each year. Some initiatives included:
- Setting maximum sodium limits for certain food categories,
- Menus or products to include warning labels on excess content of sodium, and
- Food reformulation programs to require companies to submit annual reports of the progress in reducing salt
- Regulating the environment to improve access to healthier foods via zoning and developmental regulations.
Given the World Health Organization sees the reformulation of public health laws as a useful technique to improve nutrition and health, it is probable that nations concerned with public health will consider these guidelines. This could mean more nations enacting soda taxes, restricting food advertisements, creating more restrictive nutrition label laws and increasing food standards with specific nutritional criteria. In regards of specific nutrients, WHO called out the need to reduce foods high in saturated fat, salt, and added sugar. This could mean more national policies and regulations tailored to reducing these specific ingredients.
In regards to the United States, with a new administration that has only touched lightly on nutrition related public health issues and has stressed a need for regulatory relief, it remains to be seen if they will the incorporate suggestions from this WHO report.