The US government has rejected a link between junk food and obesity in a confidential letter to the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Lee Jong-wook.
The letter, from William Steiger, special assistant at the Department of Health and Human Services, has been leaked and is available on the internet. It is the United States’s official response to an April 2003 report by WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which argued that added sugar should comprise no more than 10% of a healthy diet and that governments should take steps to limit children’s exposure to the advertising of junk food.
When the report, Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, was released last year (BMJ 2003;326: 515), American food manufacturers’ groups began lobbying to prevent their government from accepting its proposals. The Sugar Association wrote to Gro Harlem Brundtland, then director general of WHO, threatening to “exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature” of the report. Congressmen recruited by the food industry urged the secretary of health, Tommy Thompson, to cut off the $406m (£226m; 334m) annual US contribution to WHO (BMJ 2003;326: 948)