Transcript: Big Sugar Takes on the World Health Organization
The World Health Organization recommends we reduce our consumption of salt, trans fats, saturated fats, and added sugars. Why? Because consumption of such foods is the cause of at least 14 million deaths every year from chronic diseases.
Several decades ago, it was heresy to talk about an impending global pandemic of obesity, but now we’re seeing chronic disease rates skyrocket around the world. We have exported our Western diet to the far reaches of the planet, with white flour, sugar, fat, and animal-sourced foods replacing beans, peas, lentils, other vegetables, and whole grains.
Understanding the reasons underlying this trend toward increased consumption of animal products, oils, and sugar, and the reduced consumption of whole plant foods, begins with understanding the purposeful economic manipulations that have occurred since World War II relating to agricultural policies around the world.
For example, the U.S. government, since early in the last century, has supported food production through subsidies and other policies, resulting in large surpluses of food commodities, meat, and calories. In this artificial market, large food producers and corporations–Big Ag and Big Food–became very profitable. And that may be part of the problem.
Last year, Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization gave the opening address at the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion. One of the biggest challenges facing health promotion worldwide is that the efforts to prevent our top killers "go against the business interests of powerful economic operators." It is not just Big Tobacco any more. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics–front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research–that confuse the evidence and keep the public in doubt.
And they should know. In 2003, the World Health Organization released a draft report outlining a global strategy to address issues of diet, making a series of rather tame recommendations, but six words in that report, “limit the intake of ‘free’ sugars,” stimulated a remarkable series of events (free sugars means added sugars).
The food industry went to work. Within days, the sugar industry, through the Sugar Association, enlisted the support of officials high in the U.S. government, and led a vigorous attack on both the report and the World Health Organization itself, culminating in a threat to get Congress to withdraw U.S. funding to the W.H.O., the organization that deals with AIDS, malnutrition, infectious disease, bioterrorism, and more–threatened because of its stance on sugar, just as the U.S. went to bat for U.S. tobacco companies and led the charge against the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
But the threat from the sugar industry was described by WHO insiders as worse than any pressure they ever got from the tobacco lobby.
As revealed in an internal memo, the U.S. government apparently had a list of demands. Deletion of all references to the science. They had experts compile on the matter, and having dietary guidelines are fine, as long as there are no references to "fat, oils, sugar or salt."
The threats failed to make the WHO withdraw their report. Entitled Diet, Nutrition And The Prevention Of Chronic Disease, it formally launched and concluded that a diet low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and high in fruit and vegetables, was required to tackle the epidemic rise in chronic diseases worldwide, though they did end up watering it down. Gone was reference to the comprehensive scientific report, and gone was its call for recommendations to actually be translated into national guidelines.
History has since repeated. At the last high-level UN meeting to address chronic diseases, we helped block a consensus on action after lobbying from the alcohol, food, tobacco, and drug industries. When asked why Michelle Obama’s successful childhood obesity programs in the US should not be modeled around the world, a US official responded that they might harm American exports.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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