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WHO: Fight against obesity needs more help

/ Source: The Associated Press

Efforts so far by the food and drink industry to improve the nutritional value of their products to help fight childhood obesity are simply not good enough, the World Health Organization said.

"The industry's efforts are commendable, but inadequate. They are only a drop in the ocean," Colin Tukuitonga, who oversees the WHO's global strategy on diet and physical activity, said before a meeting with representatives of the food and soft drink industry on Wednesday.

Some industry giants such as Kraft, Nestle and Unilever have recently reviewed their recipes and reduced the salt, sugar and fat content of some of their products. They have also pledged to change some of their advertising and marketing practices.

"These are selected companies doing one-off changes," Tukuitonga said. "They are making a genuine effort ... but we need an industry-wide approach."

The meeting Wednesday is part of WHO's global strategy on diet and physical activity launched last year after health ministers from around the world approved the plan.

The agency believes profound changes in the way food is processed and marketed are essential to the turning the tide of the growing obesity epidemic, which is predicted to cause millions of people worldwide to suffer an early death or disability.

Officials want companies to make additional commitments or set specific targets.

"We are already doing a lot on a company level," said Nina Backes, spokeswoman at Nestle. "I am not aware that we will make a specific commitment toward the WHO."

Backes said Nestle has cut fat, salts and sugars in some 700 products in recent years and changed its labeling policy to provide additional information to the consumer.

Tukuitonga said he hoped the food industry "would voluntary agree on some self-imposed actions and targets," particularly for processed foods. "We are a long way from what we consider healthy foods," he said.

Neville Rigby of the International Obesity Task Force, a network of eminent obesity scientists and policy experts, lauded some companies for making "pretty strong statements," but said it was hard to monitor how they delivered on their pledges.