Expanding Government Authority


By Michael Kahn

GENEVA (Reuters) - Tackling the global obesity epidemic will require governments to take
similar action to that many used to curb smoking, a top researcher said on Wednesday.

This could include regulations that restrict how companies market "junk" food to children
and requirements for schools to serve healthy meals, said Professor Boyd Swinburn, a public
health researcher who works with the World Health Organisation.

"The brakes on the obesity epidemic need to be policy-led and governments need to take
centre stage," Swinburn, a researcher at Deakin University in Australia, told Reuters at the
2008 European Congress on Obesity.

"Governments have to lead the way they did with the tobacco epidemic. We need hard-hitting

Action is urgent because, aside from sub-Saharan Africa, nearly every country has suffered a
dramatic rise in the number of obese people in the past 30 years. That increase has likely
been a tripling in many industrialized nations, he said.

The World Health Organisation classifies around 400 million people around the world as
obese, 20 million of them children under the age of five.

Obesity raises the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems, and is a
problem that is
piling pressure on already overburdened national health systems.

Swinburn says the food industry has largely driven the epidemic with a stream of processed
products that are cheaper and better-tasting but filled with unhealthy ingredients.