It’s World Consumer Rights Day and Consumers International is calling on governments to support a global convention to fight diet-related ill health. Here’s Amanda Long on why this is a global crisis.
Obesity has become a common news story in the UK. Headlines highlight shocking new levels of obesity and the pressure it’s putting on the NHS. The finger is pointed at companies whose products are laden with fat, sugar or salt; or at consumers who ‘should know better’.
What many people may be unaware of, however, is the extent to which this diet-related health crisis is a global phenomenon. It may not be a surprise that rising levels of obesity in the US and parts of Europe have mirrored the experience of the UK. But what is less well known is that developing countries are also now experiencing the same phenomenon.
Rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are sky-rocketing in developing countries. There are now almost twice as many overweight and obese people in developing countries. South Africa has a higher rate of obesity than the UK. Regionally, North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America all have overweight and obese rates on a par with Europe.
The point is that this is a truly global crisis.
Skewed towards an unhealthy diet
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. If you wanted to increase someone’s intake of calories, fat, sugar and salt, what would you do? You would probably create the type of food environment that we live in now.
Open a magazine, switch on the television or go to your local supermarkets and you will be bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy products. Sugary drinks and foods high in fat, salt and sugar are available everywhere and are often more affordable than healthy alternatives. Packaged foods are also often marketed so that they look healthier than they are.
The fact is that at the moment in the UK, and in many other countries, everything is skewed towards promoting a diet that is making us sick.
Better food labelling
Unfortunately the change in our diets has been so dramatic that it is impossible to put your finger on one cause for the diet-related health crisis that we are facing now, but there are tools that we know can help.
In the UK, the government and companies are beginning to respond with a variety of initiatives to help consumers choose healthier diets. You’ve probably noticed traffic light labelling on the front of food packaging, or calorie labelling in some coffee shops and fast food chains.
If you are a parent or grandparent you might have also noticed a reduction in the number of junk food adverts during children’s television programmes.
Choosing a healthy diet
This World Consumer Rights Day consumer groups around the world are highlighting this urgent consumer issue and asking governments to support consumers to choose a healthier diet.
We want to hear from you about the challenges you face in choosing healthy diets. Is it easy and convenient to find food that is healthy? Do you feel bombarded by marketing for less healthy food? If you have younger children or grandchildren, how do their diets differ from what you ate?
This is a guest post by Amanda Long, Director General of Consumers International. All opinions are Amanda’s own, not necessarily those of Which?