The world's top health body told bosses of food and drink multinationals, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's, last week they could play a key role in shifting public taste in its campaign for healthier diets worldwide.
The World Health Organization has warned that some 60% of the 56.6 million deaths each year around the globe are due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and respiratory diseases brought on by smoking, lack of exercise and bad eating habits.
WHO member states are due to sign the first international treaty to combat smoking later this month and the U.N. agency is committed to presenting a "global strategy" on diet and physical activity to its 2004 annual meeting. In preparation for that global plan, WHO is holding talks with the food industry, interested groups and member states.
A recent report by WHO and sister U.N. agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended cutting down on fats, sugars and salt, and increasing consumption of vegetables and fruit, saying such changes would have a major impact on the death toll from the so-called "lifestyle" diseases.
Some findings were contested by the food industry, notably the U.S. sugar industry, which objected to the report setting a ceiling of 10 percent for sugar in an overall diet.
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