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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Linda

The World Health Organization, also known as the WHO, is the public health agency for the United Nations. WHO creates guidelines and recommendations to boost health globally. In 1978, WHO set the first international safety limit for the heavy metal, mercury.  WHO has also established safety limits for the metal, aluminum, the element, iodine, and the sweetener, stevia.

At times, WHO standards have been used to measure the quality of products made available to the public. Levels of the mycotoxin Patulin in apple juice have frequently exceeded WHO safety guidelines. A United Kingdom study measured the nutritional content of TV chef-created meals and ready meals, like TV dinners, to see if they met WHO nutritional guidelines. Out of 200 total tested meals, not a single one met the WHO standards. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of the Earth’s inhabitants rely on traditional medicine for their primary health-care needs, in part due to the high cost of Western pharmaceuticals.

In 1978, WHO introduced the concept of primordial prevention, the idea that steps can be taken at both the societal and individual level to prevent the development of chronic disease risk factors. WHO has recommended individuals exercise at least one hour per day, that mothers breastfeed newborns for a full six months, and that people reduce intake of salt, trans fats, saturated fats, and added sugars. WHO recommends between 8 to 11 cups of water a day from all sources for women and 10-15 cups for men.  WHO also supports the idea that people eat a more plant-based diet. WHO has attributed millions of deaths every year to inadequate fruit and vegetable intake.

A WHO study helped partially explain the so-called French paradox of lower-than-expected deaths from animal food intake, finding that French physicians under-report heart disease deaths by as much as 20%. At a societal level, WHO has identified tanning beds and alcoholic beverages as potential carcinogens. According to WHO, more antibiotics are fed to farmed animals than are used to treat disease in human patients. The WHO Director-General has recently warned that we may be facing a future in which many of our miracle drugs will no longer work and urged the public health community to stand up to big business interests to deal with the rise of chronic noncommunicable diseases.


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