23 April 2003, Rome -- FAO and the
World Health Organization (WHO) today launched an independent
expert report on diet, which will serve as the basis for
developing a global strategy to combat the growing burden of
and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, the report on
a two-year-long Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation, was formally
issued by the heads of the two agencies, who called for close
cooperation to help meet the challenge.
expert report contains the best currently available scientific
evidence on the relationship of diet, nutrition and physical
activity to chronic diseases. The report examines cardiovascular
diseases, several forms of cancer, diabetes, obesity,
osteoporosis and dental disease.
burden of chronic diseases is rapidly increasing; in 2001, they
contributed approximately 59 percent of the 56.5 million total
reported deaths in the world and 46 percent of the global burden
of disease. The report concludes that a diet low in saturated
fats, sugars and salt, and high in vegetables and fruits,
together with regular physical activity, will have a major
impact on combatting this high toll of death and disease.
All countries must act more decisively to
prevent chronic diseases by supporting healthier diet and
physical activity behaviours. Most developing countries simply
do not have the resources in their health systems, and cannot
afford to manage the growing burden of chronic disease in
addition to their existing health problems, the agencies said.
"No longer rich country
"Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers,
obesity - these are no longer rich country problems,"
said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, MD, Director-General of WHO.
"The majority of chronic disease cases are occurring in
the developing world. Our experience shows us that even modest,
but population-wide interventions on diet and physical activity,
can produce significant changes in the overall chronic disease
burden in a surprisingly short time. The report is significant
because we will be using it as the critical science-based
foundation for the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical
Activity and Health, which we are preparing to address this
growing chronic disease burden."
The agencies stressed that solutions to the global
surge in chronic diseases would require stronger linkages
between those involved in health and agriculture, at global,
regional and national levels.
"This report will help both FAO and WHO
devise strategies to promote nutritious diets and healthier
eating habits," said FAO Director-General Dr Jacques
Diouf. "Today, only a minority of people in the world
are eating the amounts of fruit and vegetables recommended by
this report. Our organizations are facing a strong challenge on
how to increase supplies of fruits and vegetables in a way that
will allow all people everywhere in the world to have access to
The report is based on the
collective judgement of a group of 30 independent experts with a
global perspective, who worked with around 30 of their peers to
review the best currently available evidence on diet, nutrition
and its effects on chronic diseases.
The report's specific recommendations on diet
include limiting fat to between 15 and 30 percent of total daily
energy intake, and saturated fats to less than 10 percent. The
report suggests that carbohydrates should provide the bulk of
energy requirements - between 55 and 75 percent of daily intake,
but that free (i.e. added) sugars should remain beneath 10
Daily intake of salt, which
should be iodized, should be restricted to less than 5 grams a
day, while the intake of fruit and vegetables should be at least
400 grams. The recommended protein intake is 10 to 15 percent.
It also notes that physical activity is a key factor in
determining the amount of energy spent each day and is
fundamental to energy balance and weight control. One hour per
day of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking, on most
days of the week, is needed to maintain a healthy body weight.
"We have known for a long time
that foods high in saturated fats, sugars, and salt, are bad for
you; that we are, globally, increasing our intake of
energy-dense, nutritionally poor food as our lives become
increasingly sedentary," said Dr Brundtland.
"And that these factors - together with tobacco use -
are the leading causes of the great surge we have seen in the
incidence of chronic diseases. What is new, is that we are
laying down the foundation for a global policy
WHO Member States see
this as a priority health issue, she said. Member States
specifically asked WHO to develop the Global Strategy in
consultation and collaboration with all of the major
stakeholders involved in food, diet, physical activity and
Food and related
companies are a critical element in developing a long-term
solution, said Dr Brundtland, noting that she will be meeting
next month with senior executives from a number of major food
and beverage companies, and also with representatives of the key
professional and consumer NGOs. All of this input will be
considered in developing the Global Strategy, to be finalized
for the WHO Executive Board in January 2004.
"The combined energy, resources and expertise
of all the relevant UN agencies, health and nutrition
professionals, the private sector and civil society, will be
essential to sustained progress. We have made this process as
transparent and inclusive as possible, while remaining committed
to our constitutional mandate to improve global public
health," said Dr Brundtland. "Our primary
responsibility remains to our Member States and their people.
Our consultations with them so far have reaffirmed both the
importance of what we are doing, and the range of different
problems developing countries in particular face."
A healthy choice
The two agencies note that creating an
environment in which the healthy choice is the easy choice has
significant implications for consumer information and labelling
and for education and recreation. It also has important
consequences for agricultural production and processing methods
as well as trade. It is for this reason that the two agencies
have committed to working closely on diet and chronic disease
According to Dr Diouf,
"This report by independent experts contains a number
of very interesting recommendations. They require FAO to examine
trends in consumption patterns to assess how these dietary
trends would need to be altered in response to the
recommendations and how the food and agricultural sectors
worldwide can adjust to these needs. We will also need to assess
what implications that this will have for production and
Dr Diouf said that the
report would be presented, together with FAO's response to
its findings, to the Organization's governing bodies as
soon as possible. This would include an analysis of the impact
of the recommendations on consumers and farmers in developing
countries, many of whom are poor and undernourished.
Dr Brundtland concluded:
"Long-term progress will take time. We need to look
decades ahead; and make a commitment now, to the health of our
current and future generations throughout the globe. The work we
are embarked upon could lead to one of the largest positive
shifts in population health ever undertaken."
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 5705 3105
Media Officer, WHO