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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Health chiefs agree global diet
Fried potatoes
Campaigners say fast food does not have to be unhealthy
The World Health Organisation has adopted an unprecedented policy on diet and health to tackle a global increase in obesity.

The voluntary plan was hammered out at talks in Geneva in the face of stiff opposition from lobbies such as the sugar-producing nations.

It includes guidelines for urban planners on encouraging exercise as well as advice on healthy eating.

Nearly one in six people worldwide is now considered overweight.

The plan was approved on Friday and adopted by the 192-member World Health Assembly on Saturday.

It is aimed at combating diseases linked to diet or lack of physical activity such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, malnutrition and tooth decay.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says this is the first ever attempt to regulate the world's eating habits.

Among the suggestions featured in the plan, which is not legally binding, are:

  • reduction of sugar, fat and salt in processed food

  • controls over food marketing to children, as well as the encouragement of healthy eating through toy promotions

  • subsidising fruit and vegetables in school canteens

  • monitoring health claims on packaging and better nutrition labelling and health education

  • urban planning to encourage walking and cycling and the development of video games powered by bicycle

Sugar concession

Sugar producers feared their farmers would suffer from the new plan and a concession was made: the draft plan suggests that trade interests should not be harmed by the promotion of a healthy diet.

Obese people
Obesity can pose grave health risks

Countries in the developing world also expressed concern that the focus on diet might draw attention away from the enormous problem of malnutrition.

"There was a lot of lobbying from different stakeholders, but in the end public health has been able to be recognised and that's the most important point," said Dr Catherine LeGales-Camus, the WHO's assistant director for non-infectious diseases.

Dr Kaare Norum, a Norwegian obesity expert who advised the WHO on the development of the plan, said the agreement was a victory for public health.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes
"Chronic diseases related to being overweight are increasing"

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