The food industry should be regulated like the tobacco industry as obesity poses a greater global health risk than cigarettes, say international groups.
Consumers International and the World Obesity Federation are calling for the adoption of more stringent rules.
These could include pictures on food packaging of damage caused by obesity, similar to those on cigarette packets.
The Food and Drink Federation said the food industry was working to make healthy options for consumers.
The two organisations – CI and WOF – said governments around the world should impose compulsory rules for the food and drink industry.
They said global deaths due to obesity and being overweight rose from 2.6 million in 2005 to 3.4 million in 2010.
The new rules could include reducing the levels of salt, saturated fat and sugar in food, improving food served in hospitals and schools, imposing stricter advertising controls, and educating the public about healthy eating.
Artificial trans-fats should be removed from all food and drink products within five years, said the recommendations.
Advertising to children, during television programmes such as the X-Factor, must be restricted, said the organisations.
Governments could review food prices, introduce taxes, change licensing controls and start new research to make this happen, the report said.
Luke Upchurch at Consumers International said they were asking for the “same level of global treaty” as the tobacco industry faced.
He said stricter advertising controls could include pictures on food packaging of the damage obesity can cause, similar to the images of smoking-related disease on cigarette boxes.
Will Brazil lead?
He said: “We want to avoid a situation like the 1960s, where the tobacco industry were saying there is nothing wrong with cigarettes, they are good for our health, and 30 or 40 years later millions have died.
“If we don’t take action now, we are going to have the same intransigence and foot-dragging in the food industry.”
He said the new rules would be at the “highest level” of global agreement, meaning governments would be “legally required” to implement them, instead of being able to opt out, which he said was the situation at the moment.
Mr Upchurch said he was confident about Brazil and Norway’s support and that the UK government had “really good ideas”.
Dr Ian Campbell, clinician and founder of the UK’s National Obesity Forum, said: “This is very interesting and their recommendations are largely sensible and practical.”
He said only when governments “accepted their responsibilities” and put consumers before producers “will we see real change”.
Dr Campbell added: “One significant difference between tobacco regulation and food regulation is that we need food to survive; we don’t need tobacco.
“The inescapable fact is obesity is killing on a massive scale and only action from governments to tackle head-on the fundamental causes of obesity will lead to any meaningful decreases.”
Food industry’s drive
Dr Tim Lobstein at the World Obesity Federation said: “If obesity was an infectious disease, we would have seen billions of dollars being invested in bringing it under control.
“But because obesity is largely caused by the over-consumption of fatty and sugary foods, we have seen policy-makers unwilling to take on the corporate interests who promote these foods.”
He said governments needed to take “collective action”.
Terry Jones, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said UK food and drink manufacturers were “already” supporting improvements to public health through many of the measures outlined in the recommendations.
He said: “The industry’s participation in the UK government’s public health responsibility deal sees manufacturers working in partnership with government, health organisations, NGOs and other stakeholders.”
Mr. Jones said it was acting to reduce salt, saturated fat and calories in products, “provide clear nutritional labelling and to promote healthier diets and more physical activity”.