WHO junk food dose too big for US to swallow
NEW YORK -- Ralph Nader, an ex-presidential aspirant and one of America's best known consumer advocates, was probably right when he warned last year that the real weapons of mass destruction are not nuclear, biological and chemical weapons-- but double-cheeseburgers and junk food served in fast food restaurants.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which fought a relentless battle against the cigarette industry last year, is about to send its own version of arms inspectors checking the fat and salt contents of hamburgers, French fries, cheeseburgers and fried chicken.

While extolling the virtues of globalisation, one New York Times columnist has advocated what he calls the "Golden Arches" theory -- a symbol of the American fast food giant McDonalds. No two countries with McDonalds, he says, have ever gone to war with each other-- a theory long disproved.

But then, after the dust has settled both in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the American fast food chains are planning a second invasion of the two countries.

To the victors are the fruits -- and fast food markets -- of an imperialistic war. But there is also another name for it: globalisation. Last week, the WHO sought formal approval from its policy-making body, the 192-nation World Health Assembly, for a new Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

Like the guidelines laid down for the cigarette industry in a treaty adopted last year, the WHO strategy on food calls for cuts in sugar, fat and salt contents in fast foods -- primarily to fight heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

If approved, the restrictions will also include curbs on advertisements and new national tax policies to promote healthier diets. But the American fast food industry -- which spends millions of dollars each year glorifying junk food -- is biting back.

The protests have also come from the sugar industry, which says that some of the charges are not based on scientific data. With help from the Bush administration, it is not only arguing that the WHO strategy is flawed but also playing for time in order to accelerate a major campaign against the proposed restrictions.

The WHO has, for the moment, accepted a US proposal for a 30-day reprieve for governments to discuss the matter further. Despite the fact that junk food is one of the primary causes of obesity, the industry still continues to have a stranglehold on American dietary habits.

The Washington-based Worldwatch Institute says that American children are brainwashed with 40,000 television ads per year - one half of which promote unhealthy food and drinks.

In the US -- described as the world's fattest nation after Samoa -- there are almost twice as many overweight children and three times as many overweight teenagers as two decades ago. The average weight of some Americans has reached a point where coffin makers are called upon to make giant-sized coffins to accommodate bodies weighing up to 318 kg. The American infatuation with junk food is best described in "Fast Food Nation: the Darker Side of the All-American Meal" authored by Eric Schlosser.

But that infatuation is fast spreading to developing nations, including India and Sri Lanka, where the younger generation is being lured to abandon their native delicacies in favour of junk food. "The Golden Arches," Schlosser says, "are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross."

He also points out that the whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted -- like brushing your teeth or stopping at a red light.

According to the latest figures released by the International Obesity Task Force, about 300 million people worldwide are obese and some 750 million people overweight, including 22 million children under the age of five. A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste. But then the waist is a terrible thing to mind -- particularly if it is of gargantuan proportions.

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