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Non-Communicable Diseases and Healthy Diets

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 70% of deaths globally and they are largely caused by four main behavioral risk factors: unhealthy diets, tobacco consumption, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity. Improving dietary habits alone could “prevent one in every five deaths globally”. Improving diets, similar to many global health challenges, is an intersectional issue involving many fields, actors and regimes of international law. Cooperation and collaboration will be essential to shifting dietary habits that not only reduce NCD mortality but simultaneously achieve related goals. Such goals include the sustainable production and consumption of food as well as the adoption of regulations that are consistent with all obligations under international law.

Among other areas of international law, NCDs and unhealthy diets is an international human rights law issue. The right to health and the right to food impose obligations on States to respond to the NCD crisis. In an effort to achieve these obligations States have attempted to promote healthy diets by focusing on reducing the consumption of sugar, fats and sodium through fiscal policies, labeling requirements, advertising restrictions and reformulation requirements. Guidance on these measures primarily comes in the form of non-binding guidelines from the WHO. With respect to other risk factors, such as tobacco consumption, guidelines can be found in the form of a binding treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This raises an important question, should there also be a binding treaty on diets?

Similar to the tobacco industry, the food and beverage industry has significant reach and impact on the adoption of NCD regulations. Given that the interests between industry and public health are not aligned, this poses an additional hurdle to the adoption of NCD regulations. Whether or not industry should be involved in the adoption of NCD regulations is a highly debated topic. The FCTC draws a hard line excluding tobacco industry involvement in the adoption of tobacco control measures. However, in the context of healthy diets, there is disagreement on whether this same principle should be applied.

Research at the GHLG covers regime interaction in the context of public health regulations to promote healthy diets. The research explores opportunities for positive regime interaction in lieu of fragmentation. This research questions how international human rights legal frameworks can be utilized to advance NCD regulations and promote healthy food environments. It also questions the potential added value of the adoption of a legally binding treaty to address heathy diet regulations in light of the FCTC. This research further aims to learn from the successes and failures in tobacco regulation.

For more information please contact Meaghan Beyer m.a.beyer rug.nl

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Roundtable on "Child right protection and industry advertisement, promotion and sponsoring (APS) in the Non-Communicable Disease crisis" - Geneva, Switzerland
25 June 2019.

You may consult here the Outcome document Geneva 2019.

Last modified:05 February 2020 3.11 p.m.