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Australian-led international network to hold governments and food industry accountable for efforts to prevent obesity

15 November 2012

A new international network will for the first time monitor government and food industry efforts to improve the world’s food environments and prevent obesity.

Obesity prevention experts with Deakin University’s Population Health Strategic Research Centre, Dr Gary Sacks and Professor Boyd Swinburn, have organised a meeting of public health experts from around the world to establish a new international network to monitor the nutrient content of foods globally, food marketing to children, food prices, and government and private sector policies around food/obesity in a range of countries. The meeting will be held at the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, Italy from 19-23 November.

Driven by a collective goal to tackle alarmingly high rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, the network known as INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support) will be collecting benchmarking data so that governments and the food industry can be held accountable for their efforts to address the impact that unhealthy food environments are having on the health of many throughout the world, said Deakin’s Dr Gary Sacks.

“The United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and several public health groups have called for governments and the food industry to take urgent steps to improve food environments and prevent obesity. Over the past few decades, we have seen a dramatic increase in the supply of cheap, tasty, high-calorie foods that are very heavily marketed. This has created an environment that encourages obesity and has meant that the population intake of unhealthy food continues to increase substantially,” Dr Sacks said.

“There are no good systems in place to measure what governments and the food industry are doing in relation to food environments. And there are no good standards in place to benchmark their policies and actions against good practice. And so there is no way of knowing if their efforts are hitting the mark in relation to improving the healthiness of the foods being consumed around the world.

“In most cases, governments are leaving the junk food industry to regulate their own efforts to improve food environments, and this is clearly failing to result in the improvements needed to reduce obesity. There is currently no good way of comparing the foods available for sale in different countries and across time. There is also no good data on the relative prices of healthy and unhealthy foods in different countries. In addition, no-one is keeping track of the activities of the food industry that have important influences on the food supply, such as their lobbying of governments and the political donations they make. This is where INFORMAS will step in.

“By the end of the meeting on 23 November 2012 we will aim to have in place benchmarks for measuring the progress of governments and the food industry and have finalised an approach to monitoring the healthiness of food environments in a range of countries. The first set of data is expected in 2013.”

The meeting in Bellagio, Italy, is sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation, and jointly organised by the International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF), Deakin University and University of Auckland. It will bring together 23 of the world’s experts on monitoring food composition, food marketing, food labelling and food pricing. The participants will include representatives from international UN organisations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), leading global obesity and food policy experts, including representatives from the University of Oxford, University of Auckland, Deakin University, University of Sydney, University of Toronto, and the George Institute, and representatives from low- and middle-income countries, including Brazil, India, China, Mexico, South Africa and Fiji.

News facts
  • Deakin-led global network will for the first time monitor government and food industry efforts to address the impact that unhealthy food environments are having on the health of many throughout the world
  • The network will monitor the nutrient content of foods globally, food marketing to children, food prices, and government and private sector policies around food/obesity
  • The first meeting of the network will be from 19-23 November in Bellagio, Italy

Media contact

Mandi O'Garretty
Deakin Media Relations
03 5227 2776; 0418 361 890
mandi.ogarretty@deakin.edu.au

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15th November 2012