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Global food tax could help families lose weight, UN official says

Unhealthy foods ought to be regulated, according to a United Nations official who issued a May 19 press release calling for unified global action to help families deal with obesity and its related costs.

"Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco," said Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food. His remarks advanced the May 21 launch of new recommendations called "Towards a Global Convention to Protect and Promise Healthy Diets" at a World Health Organization summit. The release came from the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

De Schutter said the risks of a high-fat, unhealthy diet are well known, as are risks associated with obesity, but "the international community continues to pay insufficient attention to the worsening epidemic of obesity and unhealthy diets."

Among his five priorities are taxing unhealthy foods, boosting local food producers, reducing junk-food ads, examining "misguided" farm subsidies and "regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar."

Fox News said the announcement is an attempt to get the same international cooperation secured in 2005 when what it called "the U.N. global convention on tobacco control" was approved.

De Schutter is not alone in blaming the issue on poor food choices. "Rather than tell the overweight to put down the fork and get a bloody grip on their dietary regime, society prefers to adapt itself to suit the needs of those forever chomping at the bit for bigger morsels," Hugh Reilly wrote Monday for The Scotsman.

Nor is it a new idea. Two years ago, ABC News reported on a study in the British Journal of Medicine, writing that, "A tax of at least 20 percent placed on sugar-sweetened drinks could drop obesity rates by 3.5 percent and prevent 2,700 heart-related deaths each year."

A third of Americans are obese, leading to serious health impacts including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, certain cancers and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It said that America's annual medical cost related to obesity is more than $147 billion in 2008 dollars.

Not all obesity is related to eating habits. The United Kingdom's National Health Service, for instance, notes that some medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or hyperthyroidism are on a list of causes that can also include food choices, exercise levels, lifestyle and genetics, among other things.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco