Are Unhealthy Diets a Greater Threat Than Tobacco?

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has boldly stepped into the food wars, claiming that an unhealthy diet is a greater global health risk than tobacco. The statement was issued in mid-May in Geneva at a Consumers International (CI) event, which also served to promote the organization’s “Recommendations Towards a Global Convention to Protect and Promote Healthy Diets.”

The statement was issued by Belgian professor Olivier de Schutter, special rapporteur on the right to food since 2008 and former head of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. Professor de Schutter, who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, stated “Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.”

If this sounds like a draconian measure to force people to eat according to some international standard, it’s not.  The CI’s recommendations range from food education and information for all people to policy coherence in food systems to protect and promote healthy diets.  The recommendations also advocate for responsible food and beverage advertising, including controls on advertising, promotion and sponsorship to children.

In 2012, de Schutter authored the report “The right to an adequate diet: the agriculture-food-health nexus” in which he identified five priority actions to address the issues of obesity and unhealthy diets.  The priorities were:

Taxing unhealthy products;

Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar;

Cracking down on junk food advertising;

Overhauling misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others; and

Supporting local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.

If you put 100 regulators, diet experts, scientists and food industrialists in a room together, you will get 100 definitions of  “unhealthy” so, regrettably, that first important priority may never be fulfilled. The other four priorities are much closer to reality and an excellent start to further promote healthy eating and dietary education.

The challenge with healthy eating is similar to the challenge with tobacco use: you would expect people to make life-affirming and health-promoting choices. The challenge with regulating diets is equally daunting.  Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles declared, “Do not command what you cannot enforce,” and that is the problem with making healthy eating a legal issue at the individual level. By tackling unhealthy food at the corporate level and focusing on proactive policy and education for citizens, an informed public can make an educated decision about its food choices.

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JL A.about a year ago

Important question

Niharika M.
Niharika M.about a year ago

We are lacking real foods !

Dot A.
Dot A.about a year ago

Ops, correction~

- of course, adding toxins into the body ISN'T a stroke of genius either, but they could 'give' us one~

Dot A.
Dot A.about a year ago

Since we are required to digest food from the moment we're born, it's apparent to me that what we put into these physical bodies is very important, and has repercussions when we don't provide what the body actually needs. - of course, adding toxins into the body is a stroke of genius either, but they could 'give' us one~

Pay attention to the care of the body and the body will offer a better life.
When we neglect our needs, there is always a cost to pay.

It's become a real challenge to stay on a healthy life style of best foods, as the price of the best foods is only obtainable by the financially well-off. I just do the best that I can afford.

There are so many toxins that our society and cultures are embracing nowadays. Seems like we used to try and discourage such destructive substances when the warnings were brought to the public's awareness . . .

Tobacco is a nasty one.
When people get hooked, they really don't want to quit, - and it's a tragedy~

tin leng lim
tin leng limabout a year ago

Thank you.

Kath P.
Kath P.about a year ago

I think there should not be a tax but an all out ban on those slushy drinks sold in self serve machines at many convenience stores. I see kids buying giant containers full of that junk.

Wild Thang
Rilde WildeThangabout a year ago

Taxing bad habits is a bad habit. No one wants to be forced to moderate their behavior anymore than they like force by war. They will have less to spend on food and then make even worse choices. Eliminating subsides may be better even if they have the same effect.
Just because our merchandising encourages obsessive compulsive consumption doesn't mean enforced abstinence is a good solution. A good solution is encouraged voluntary moderation of behavior not behavioral control and domination by superiors who always know what'd best for us. Especially after they profited from getting us addicted in some way to begin with via subsidies and tax collection and stock earning for big and small investors. If something turns out to be addictive then someone is responsible for profiting by it.

Tina C.
Tina C.about a year ago

I would only agree on a tax on unhealthy food if I agree that the taxed foods are unhealthy. I have heard at various times that rice, grapes, potatoes, wheat and milk are unhealthy. While that is being debated, will I be taxed for buying these?

Beverly C.
Beverly C.about a year ago


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vagaabout a year ago

Tobacco is worst