Frequently asked questions about the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
1. What is the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health?
The strategy provides Member States with a range of global policy options to address two of the major risks responsible for the heavy and growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs): unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. NCDs – including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and obesity-related conditions – now account for some 60% of global deaths and almost half (47%) of the global burden of disease.
A Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health was requested by WHO Member States in a 2002 World Health Assembly Resolution on integrated prevention of noncommunicable Diseases (WHA55.23). The strategy was formally adopted by the 57th WHA in May 2004.
A Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health was been requested by WHO Member States in a 2002 World Health Assembly Resolution on integrated prevention of noncommunicable Diseases (WHA55.23).
2. What are the key issues addressed by the strategy?
The strategy explains the global burden of NCDs and how healthier diet, nutrition and physical activity can help to prevent and control them. The document specifies roles for WHO Member States, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector in helping to reduce the occurrence of NCDs. It also addresses the role of NCD prevention in health services; food and agriculture policies; fiscal policies; surveillance systems; regulatory policies; consumer education and communication including marketing, health claims and nutrition labelling; and school policies as they affect food and physical activity choices.
It suggests limiting intake of sugars, fats and salt in foods, and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. The strategy emphasizes the need for countries to develop national strategies with a long-term, sustainable perspective to make the healthy choices the preferred alternatives at both the individual and community level.
3. How was the draft strategy document prepared?
Over 18 months, WHO has managed a wide-ranging series of consultations with all concerned stakeholders to develop the strategy in response to a request from Member States at World Health Assembly 2002. These consultations have included formal meetings with Member States organized in conjunction with WHO regional offices (attended by more than 80 countries), other UN agencies concerned with food, nutrition and health issues, civil society and nongovernmental organisations, and the private sector.
Each consultation produced a report with specific recommendations to the Global Strategy. WHO was advised on the strategy by a Reference Group of independent international experts in the area of NCD prevention and control, promotion of healthy diets and physical activity, from a number of disciplines and both developed and developing countries. Full details of the process, all documents, and the various stakeholders’ recommendations are available on this website:
- Full details of the process for developing the Global Strategy
- Consultations with the various stakeholders
The strategy was formally adopted by the 57th WHA in May 2004, following minor changes to the accompanying resolution.
4. Is this process similar to tobacco? Is WHO now developing a food convention? How will it be put into practice?
No, this is not a convention and the approach to food is not the same as to tobacco. The strategy aims to provide Member States and other interested stakeholders with a range of recommendations and policy options to promote healthier diets and more physical activity. It will be up to Member States to decide how these should be further developed and implemented at the country level.
Once the strategy has been endorsed at the World Health Assembly, Member States then have the responsibility for determining which specific policy options are appropriate to their circumstances at the national level. WHO will then provide technical support for the implementation of programmes, as requested by Member States.
5. Is WHO advocating “fat taxes” or more subsidies?
No. The strategy does not prescribe any specific tax or subsidy, but it notes that several countries have adopted fiscal measures to promote availability of and access to various foods, and to increase or decrease consumption of certain types of food. The strategy notes that public policies can influence prices through several measures including tax policies and subsidies. The text of the Strategy acknowledges that decisions on such policy options are the responsibility of individual Member States, depending upon their particular circumstances.
6. What is the report WHO-FAO TRS 916? Is it the basis for the strategy?
The report of the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Expert Consultation, Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases (TRS 916), is one of many scientific reports and findings that contributed to the development of the Strategy. It is not the only basis for the strategy. TRS 916, released in April 2003, discusses the strength of evidence on diet, nutrition and six chronic conditions: cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancers, osteoporosis and dental diseases. It recommends ranges for population nutrient intake goals and physical activity levels consistent with the prevention of NCDs.
The January 2004 EB draft strategy document mentioned TRS916 in the text as the sole cited reference for developing food-based dietary guidelines in the light of the local health situation. Among the comments from Member States, some suggested deleting TRS916 as the sole reference. Others strongly requested retaining the reference to TRS916, while some suggested adding additional supporting references.
Since the global strategy is a policy document and since it is not WHO policy to reference every scientific contribution to such a policy document, it was considered more appropriate to acknowledge the contribution of TRS916 to the development of the strategy in the document in the accompanying Report by the Secretariat.
7. The strategy refers in paragraph 46 to the need for access to accurate labelling information. What specifically are you proposing that countries do?
Consumers require accurate and clear information in order to make informed choices. Many governments are revisiting existing regulations on nutrition labelling and health claims, and sees that claims based on scientific evidence can help promote healthy choices.
8. Does the strategy have any other recommendations for the private sector? Some reports have suggested that WHO is taking on the junk food industry.
Reducing the burden of death and disability from NCDs requires a multi-sectoral approach that mobilises the combined energy, resources and expertise of all global stakeholders. The strategy sees industry as part of the solution, and recommends joint action with the food industry. Private sector representatives have taken part in a number of formal consultations with WHO, as have other key stakeholders, including civil society groups and NGOs.
Dr Timothy Armstrong, Coordinator - Surveillance and Population-based Prevention Unit - Fax:+41227911581 - Email:firstname.lastname@example.org