GHF2008 – PL06 – Business, Lifestyles, and Public Health

Session Outline

Plenary session, Tuesday, May 27 2008, 14:00-15:30, Room 3-4
Chair(s): Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Vice Director, Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, Head of International Affairs Division, Switzerland 
A Dream of a Healthy World
Alok Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India, India
How Business Can Change Behaviour
Stig Pramming, Executive Director, Oxford Health Alliance, UK 
Nutrition in Transition: The Role of Industry
Niels Christiansen, Vice-President, Public Affairs, Nestlé, Switzerland
Women as Key Actors for Change
Ilona Kickbusch, Director, Global Health Programme, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland 
Governance, Regulations and Public Health
Kaare Norum, Professor Emeritus, Department of Nutrition, School of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway

Session Report

The Chair, Dr. Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Vice Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and Head of International Affairs Division, opened the session by pointing to the heavy burden for the world of non-communicable diseases. He believes that the wealth and experience of the private sector means that it has an important role to play in helping to reduce this burden: "The business of business is not only business".

A number of key points emerged from the talks and discussion:

  • Now is an exciting time, because health as an issue has received more importance over the last few years and because of increasing opportunities for public and private sectors to work together.
  • We have all the necessary tools for achieving health for all, now we must utilize this favorable climate and put all our energies into making it happen.

According to Mr. Alok Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association India, pointed out that this involves:

  1. Adopting a 'holistic' approach in 'battle', rather than our current segregation in views and strategy
  2. Tackling the lifestyle and social determinants of ill health whole-heartedly
  3. Considering the ability of both private and non-profit sectors to provide quality healthcare at reasonable cost
  4. Looking at the investment being made in healthcare, especially in some developing countries
  5. Addressing the dominance of a western system of medicine
  6. Reconsidering our consumption patterns: "We have one earth; Mother Earth. But we don't treat it as our mother."

Some skepticism was raised about working with the private sector, but what is the alternative? It is unhelpful to see all businesses as 'bad' and to dismiss their insights, just as it is to class all NGOs and governmental bodies as 'good'. We should be skeptical about the goals of all of these organizations. "Blaming is not a good starting point for dialogue and a cooperative world" (Stig Pramming, Executive Director, Oxford Health Alliance). In fact, businesses are very concerned about the trust of their consumers, and they need to be helped to make better choices, and their contribution, where genuine, celebrated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (DPAS) gives the packaged food industry a constructive role in helping to fight non-communicable diseases.

"Nutrition, Health and Wellness" has become an important strategy for many in the food industry, including Nestlé, which has been working to reformulate products and at a national level cooperating with governments on specific products and nutrition plans.

We must understand better the interface between global forces of change, gender and health. Too often, rapidly changing health determinants are discussed in a neutral way. "We must remind ourselves again, again, again, and again that gender is a critical determinate in health and an organizing principle of social life" (Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Programme, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies).

The regulation of marketing needs to be considered. Whilst the private sector is against such regulations and codes, Professor Kaare Norum, of the Departement of Nutrition, School of Medicine of the University of Oslo, pointed out that up to now self-regulation has had no impact on the prevalence of obesity in children. He called for the WHO to take the lead on international marketing restrictions.

NGOs and popular movements have an important role as critical consumers demanding reliable products, but also in holding governments to account in terms of investment and legislation. Consumers need to know who to trust, and being active can bring about change.

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