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May 19, 2014 05:01 PM EDT

Obesity, Unhealthy Diets Greater Threat To Health Than Tobacco

People with Lower Sensitivity to Taste Overeat, Study.
(Photo : Wiki Commons) People with Lower Sensitivity to Taste Overeat, Study.

Unhealthy foods may pose a greater risk to global health than tobacco, a United Nations investigator said on Monday.

Olivier de Schutter, special rapporteur to the U.N. on the right to food and Belgian professor, issued a statement calling for efforts to rally around a "bold framework" of regulations limiting access to salty, sugary foods that are high in saturated fats and contribute to obesity, Reuters reported.

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He said the global struggle against tobacco use offered a model "for efforts to stem the rising tide of obesity and poor nutrition in countries both developed and developing," the Los Angeles Times reported.

"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," de Schutter said.

He said a there should be taxing on unhealthy products, advertisements aimed at "cracking down on junk food," and a regulation of food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar, Reuters reported.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death. It currently claims 5 million lives annually, a figure projected to rise to 8 million by 2030. However it has begun to decline in the world's most affluent countries, and increase in the developing world.

Obesity rates, which have significantly increased for three decades in much of the developed world, have begun to skyrocket in some of the world's most populous countries, including China and India.

De Schutter said any attempts to promote better diets and combat obesity "will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right," Reuters reported.

"Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are made available, and how they are marketed," de Schutter said.

He said these measures "are essential to ensure that people are protected from aggressive misinformation campaigns."

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