Posted by Jenny Kaldor and Roger Magnusson
This is the view when you look out the front gates of the World Health Organisation’s regional headquarters in Manila.
A few blocks away, in the processed food aisles of the supermarket, parents are encouraged to purchase “nutrition power for kids”.
The Western Pacific Region, which includes Australia, is home to 138 million adults with diabetes, and includes a number of Pacific Island countries where more than one third of the population have diabetes, and around one half of the population are obese. [See separate blog post]
In response to these issues in our region, Manila was the venue for a consultation on 9-11 April 2014, on overweight, obesity, diabetes and the law, co-hosted by the University of Sydney (Sydney Law School and the Boden Institute), and by the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO). The consultation brought together public health practitioners, community leaders and academics from around the region, including Fiji, Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia, Cambodia, South Korea, Mongolia, PNG, the Philippines and more.
The consultation was co-chaired by Professor Stephen Colagiuri (Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders), Professor Roger Magnusson (Sydney Law School), and Mr David Patterson (IDLO). The background paper and meeting report were written by the rapporteur for the consultation, Ms Jenny Kaldor, who is a PhD candidate at Sydney Law School.
The Western Pacific Regional Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO – WPRO) was the co-sponsor and convenor of the consultation, and has just published the meeting report, which is available below:
The report illustrates the variety of legal issues that overweight, obesity and diabetes are causing for countries within the Western Pacific WHO region, as well as how law might be used to improve health outcomes. These include the problems of diabetes-related disability discrimination, discrimination in access to diabetes medications, and good practices in legislation to improve food environments and opportunities for physical activity, from across the region. The report discusses the opportunities for, and obstacles to, using law effectively, as well as the challenge of ensuring that trade agreements and trade laws do not work at cross-purposes to health policies on obesity and diabetes.
The meeting report highlights several important conclusions:
- There is a strong need to build the evidence-base on legal interventions relating to obesity, diabetes and population diets. Case studies, feasibility studies, guidelines, summaries and other tools can assist countries to share their knowledge and experience with legal and regulatory interventions. Researchers and academics have an important role to play. Networks need to be built across the region to better facilitate information sharing.
- Developing local expertise in public health law and in particular, law related to obesity, overweight and diabetes, is a priority.
- In-depth technical advice is needed on promising interventions. These include a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages; restrictions on unhealthy marketing of food and beverages to children; requirements for interpretive, front-of-pack labelling; and legislation to create environments that facilitate and encourage physical activity.
- Civil society has a vital role to play in the development, implementation and enforcement of innovative legal approaches to overweight, obesity and diabetes.
- Addressing the interference of the food and drinks industries in policy development and implementation in countries across the region is a priority. Clear guidelines are needed to avoid conflicts of interest and to ensure that government interactions with the food industry are transparent and constructive, and do not jeopardise public health goals.
- Law needs to be better integrated into the agenda of the World Health Organisation. Law is central to advancing the goals of WHO, and can enable countries to protect, respect and fulfil the right to health.