60 Food and Drug Law Journal 569-602 (2005).
The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health in response to a request from Member Nations to address the global epidemic of noncommunicable diseases such as obesity and other diet- and inactivity-related diseases. While the ultimate success of the Global Strategy is uncertain at this stage, the forces of globalization, international trade, and transnational marketing continue to undermine national laws and policies aimed at addressing the epidemic. An increased legal role for the WHO in this area is imminent in light of the need for an international organization to catalyze national action, exert control over certain practices of transnational corporations, and advocate for health-promoting policies in international trade systems.
This article focuses on defending the need for a centralized international instrument in addressing the increased prevalence of global obesity and diet- and inactivity-related diseases and defining the ambit of the WHO's legislative powers in the area of food. It also offers some insight into the question of how WHO-based legal instruments could assist the worldwide fight against diet- and inactivity-related diseases. The spectrum of regulation ranges from binding treaties to voluntary codes of practice, and includes familiar international law models as well as nontraditional solutions such as the use of the WHO as a judicial organ in international trade disputes. It would be prudent for the WHO to explore a multipronged approach to address the complexity of diet- and inactivity-related diseases.