Chronic diseases and health promotion

Part Four - Taking action: essential steps for success

Chapter Two - The private sector, civil society and international organizations

Product research - food. Spotlight: New Zealand

Product research and development – food and drinks

Initiatives by the food and drink industries to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods as well as portion sizes, to increase choice, and to review current marketing practices could accelerate health gains worldwide. Recommendations of the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health to the food and drink industries include the following:

  • limit the levels of saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and salt in existing products;
  • continue to develop and provide affordable, healthy and nutritious choices to consumers;
  • consider introducing new products with better nutritional value (Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. World Health Assembly resolution WHA57.17. Geneva, WHO, 2004).

Many companies have already made some modifications to product composition by lowering portion sizes and altering contents. Some have introduced low/reduced fat and low salt products, as well as offering fruit and salads in fast food outlets. These actions have been taken voluntarily by companies, although perhaps accelerated by the broader policy environment.

At the global level, WHO is convening a series of discussions with food and drink companies, retailers and nongovernmental organizations to encourage more action, although such activities are sometimes best coordinated and more efficiently managed at the regional or sub-regional level. For example, the European Commission recently launched a Platform for Action on voluntary but measurable reductions in salt, sugar and fat content and improved product information for consumers.

National regulators and regional organizations have also established guidelines and targets for lowering the fat, salt and sugar content of processed foods. The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom, for example, has developed a national plan of action including targets for salt reduction (see spotlight).

Spotlight: Food industry accord in New Zealand

In 1999, new research showed that the health of New Zealand’s people was affected more by unhealthy diet and physical inactivity combined than by other risk factors, including smoking. In response, the New Zealand Government developed a Healthy Eating – Healthy Action strategy (HEHA), with a wide range of stakeholders participating.

Members of the food and beverage industry are active HEHA stakeholders, and in September 2004 they launched a Food Industry Accord. All signatory food producers, distributors, retailers, marketers, advertisers and media outlets have acknowledged or publicized the fact that obesity is a major risk to public health, that the food industry has a role to play in tackling obesity, and that they will meet key objectives, such those aimed at reducing obesity, improving nutrition, and increasing physical activity.

Actions and commitments resulting from the Food Industry Accord are being independently evaluated (Healthy eating – healthy action, oranga kai – oranga pumau. Implementation plan: 2004–2010. Wellington, Ministry of Health, 2004).