The Bush administration is challenging a World Health Organization report that outlines steps for nations to take to reduce obesity.
In a letter to the United Nations agency that is meeting next week, Health and Human Services official William Steiger questioned the organization's findings, said they were based on faulty science, and called for changes to the report.
The WHO report recommends eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting fats and salt. It also suggests governments limit food advertising aimed at children and encourage their citizens to eat healthier foods. Taxes and subsidies could be used to reduce the price of healthy food and make them more attractive to consumers, the report said.
The International Obesity Task Force estimates that 300 million people worldwide are obese and 750 million more are overweight, including 22 million children under age 5.
Steiger said in his letter that the WHO report did not adequately address an individual's responsibility to balance one's diet with one's physical activities, and objected to singling out specific types of foods, such as those high in fat and sugar.
"The (U.S. government) favors dietary guidance that focuses on the total diet, promotes the view that all foods can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, and supports personal responsibility to choose a diet conducive to individual energy balance, weight control and health," wrote Steiger, special assistant for international affairs at Health and Human Services.
Consumer advocacy groups criticized the Bush administration's stance, noting that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson has pledged to fight obesity.
"We doubt the secretary's commitment to fighting obesity on any serious level," said Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Government is part of the problem and government needs to be part of the solution."
By Jonathan D. Salant