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Investigation: Mexico's War Against Obesity, Sponsored by Coca-Cola

Reuters reports that regional UN gets funding, support from junk food giants

- Common Dreams staff

The organization charged with battling the latest "global epidemic," diabetes and heart disease, has been exposed getting funding from the industries at the heart of this plague. Reuter's investigative report on the UN's World Health Organization found that the regional office in Mexico has been linked with industry giants including Coca-Cola and Unilever.

Mexico's office of the World Health Organization receives thousands from junk food giants. (Photo by Adriana Zehbrauskas / New York Times) According to Reuters, the office, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), has accepted the following: "$50,000 from Coca-Cola, the world's largest beverage company; $150,000 from Nestle, the world's largest food company; and $150,000 from Unilever, a British-Dutch food conglomerate whose brands include Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Popsicles." Additionally, a top official from Coca-Cola has been appointed to a steering board for WHO's Pan American Forum for Action on Non-Communicable Diseases.

Accepting funds from industry donors is against WHO's worldwide policy, however, according to the report, "the Pan American office was founded 46 years before it was affiliated with WHO in 1948—[and has] different standards allowing the business donations."

The fundraising stems from necessity. The report explains, "WHO has cut its own funding for chronic disease programs by 20 percent since 2010—an even bigger decline than for the agency as a whole."

"WHO is getting hijacked," said Boyd Swinburn, an Australian professor and longtime member of WHO's nutrition advisory committees. "They're cash-strapped, and they're bringing the private sector in. That's very dangerous."

The funds raised by PAHO are slated for the research of solutions to the growing obesity epidemic in Mexico, the nation with the world's highest rates of obese and overweight adults. Though the World Health Organization does not impose any regulatory authority, "the agency relies on member nations to embrace its recommendations—something that happens quite often in developing nations".

"The standards and policies adopted by WHO basically become the laws and regulations and policies in many of these countries," said Daniel Spiegel, a former U.S. ambassador to U.N. programs in Geneva who now lobbies on behalf of the food and alcohol industries.