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New WHO report on nutrition through the life course

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a report, WHO Essential Nutrition Actions: mainstreaming nutrition throughout the life course. 

The report was developed by the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development as a resource to intensify action in nutrition and provide updated and comprehensive evidence-informed guidance. This 2019 report is an update of the 2013 WHO publication entitled Essential nutrition actions: improving maternal, newborn, infant and young child health and nutrition.

Its primary purpose is

“to provide a comprehensive compilation of essential nutrition actions to address malnutrition in all its forms”

i.e., “the double-burden” of underweight and overweight and associated chronic disease conditions.

The main report is divided into three sections:

  1. Multi-sectoral interventions for healthier populations
  2. Nutrition through the life-course
  3. Nutrition in emergencies (infant, young children and micronutrient deficiencies).

“Healthy diet” is addressed in the first section (pages 24-26) and intended for all countries, all settings and all population groups. Sugars are addressed alongside other dietary components such as potassium, sodium, dietary fat, fruits and vegetables.

The recommendation on sugars is the same as the 2015 WHO Sugars Guideline:

“Reduce the intake of free sugars through the life-course. In both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake. WHO suggests a further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake.”

(Read our article on the 10% vs 5% target here)

The summary of key evidence on sugars states:

“In both adults and children, the intake of free sugars should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake. A reduction to less than 5% of total energy intake would provide additional health benefits. Consuming free sugars increases the risk of dental caries (tooth decay). Excess calories from foods and drinks that are high in free sugars also contribute to unhealthy weight gain, which can lead to overweight and obesity.”

Key actions for implementation include:

Reducing incentives for the food industry to continue or increase production of processed foods containing high levels of saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars and salt/sodium; encouraging reformulation of food products to reduce the contents of saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, with the goal of eliminating industrially produced trans-fats; The report also states:

“Increased production of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods that are high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, and many people do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other foods containing dietary fibre such as whole grains.”

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