Calling for a human rights approach to healthy diets requires clear guidelines, principles and processes to lay out how this can be achieved.
Alongside the call in the BMJ requesting that WHO and OHCHR develop human rights guidance on healthy diets and sustainable food systems, signatories have proposed a set of guiding documents to support this process.
Signatories to the call have identified the following, which can be found in the tabs below:
1) Illustrative action areas for international guidelines on Human Rights, Healthy Diets and Sustainable Food Systems.
2) A proposed process for strengthening the links between human rights and healthy diets.
We have also identified a set of guiding principles to assist the development of these international guidelines. The principles are non-exhaustive and based on international law, ethical frameworks and global political commitments.
You can find these below and add your voice to what the next steps should look like via our discussion forum.
Strengthen international assistance and cooperation, including through the United Nations, to ensure inclusive, multisectoral governance processes to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and ensure healthy diets and sustainable food systems.
Recognize that the private sector has a responsibility to act to prevent diet-related diseases pursuant to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the ‘Ruggie Principles’) and relevant codes of conduct.
Reform international trade and investment rules, where necessary, to enable governments to implement evidence-based policies for ensuring food security and the prevention of diet-related diseases consistent with international human rights obligations, and without fear of reprisal.
Promote accountability of the State and private sector through monitoring, review and remedial action to guarantee the protection of rights and ensure healthy diets and sustainable food systems.
National food policies should include mechanisms for coordinating action across sectors and levels of government and address the need for financing, monitoring and accountability of actions to support healthy diets, address obesogenic environments and sustainable food systems.
Regulate and enforce the formulation, production, taxation, promotion and marketing (particularly to children) of food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages. This could include mandatory front-of-pack labelling, restrictions on the use of claims and implied claims on food, restrictions on promotional characters, toys and games targeted at children, restrictions on promotion of breast milk substitutes, and restrictions on unhealthy foods (including ultraprocessed foods) such as those containing excessive salt, sugar, or saturated fat.
Ensure supportive and enabling food environments that provide access to a diversity of affordable, culturally appropriate, nutritious foods including in public and private institutions (e.g. workplaces, hospitals, schools, prisons) as well as for children, adolescents and indigenous populations.
Ensure the fullest possible civil society participation, including of youth and consumer protection groups, in the process of policy and standards development at the national and sub-national level.
Recognize the role that gender and poverty play throughout the lifecourse in the marketing, promotion, production, preparation and consumption of healthy and unhealthy foods.
Ensure effective management of conflicts of interest in the policy-making process, including appropriate regulation of the private sector, based on evidence-informed standards, with independent transparent reporting of performance and mechanisms for enforcement, as well as a register of lobbyist activity in international and national fora.
Ensure care, treatment and support for people living with diet-related NCDs, including safe and effective medication at an affordable price, and provision of disability benefits or social security for those disabled by illness.
Protect people living with obesity and diet-related diseases from discrimination, and strengthen the capacity of human rights entities to address related discrimination.
Acknowledge the important role that discourse and framing play in shaping public opinion on interventions to promote and protect population health, and build communications campaigns that portray sustainable food systems and health regulation as aspirational, beneficial and equalizing.
Support research on evidence-informed healthy diets and malnutrition in all of its forms, noting the need for full transparency and accountability, including avoidance of conflicts of interest and research on understanding better and stimulating change in commercial food systems, as well as on the pathways to, and effectiveness of human rights approaches to improving human nutrition.
This process links to arguments made by Patterson D, Buse K, Magnusson R and Toebes B in “Identifying a human rights-based approach to obesity for States and civil society.” Obesity Reviews. 2019.
Human Rights Based
States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health, and other health-related rights, including the right to food. These rights, which are grounded in international law, require governments not to interfere with the enjoyment of the right, to protect the right from interference by others (including those with vested economic interests) and to provide and promote conditions in which the right can be fully realised, including through legislative, administrative and budgetary measures.
Universality and inalienability
Human rights, including the right to health and to food, are universal and inalienable. All people everywhere in the world are entitled to them, and cannot voluntarily give them up.
Human rights are indivisible. Whether of a civil, cultural, economic, political or social nature, they are all inherent to the dignity of every person. Consequently, they all have equal status as rights, and cannot be ranked, a priori, in a hierarchical order.
Equality and Non-discrimination
All individuals are equal and are entitled to their human rights without discrimination of any kind, such as on grounds of race, colour, sex, ethnicity, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status.
Participation and inclusion
Every person and all peoples are entitled to active, free and meaningful participation in, contribution to, and enjoyment of civil, economic, social, cultural and political development in which human rights and fundamental freedoms can be realized. This implies broad-based multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary engagement to ensure a broad range of stakeholder views are included, with adequate safeguards to avoid and manage potential and apparent conflicts of interests.
Whole-of-government leadership, accountability and rule of law
States and other duty-bearers are answerable for the observance of human rights. In this regard, they have to comply with the legal norms and standards enshrined in human rights instruments. At the same time, healthy diets and sustainable food systems have their origins in laws and policies that operate in many sectors. An all-of-government approach is necessary, both to ensure that non-health sectors strategically implement policies that support healthy diets and sustainable food systems, and so that the health sector can learn more about how policies in these sectors impact on health, the enjoyment of the right to food, and other health-related rights.
Equity-, gender- and life-course-based
States should pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable groups, including children, women, the elderly and others who have disproportionately poorer access to a healthy diet or are at higher risk of malnutrition in all its forms, including by taking a gendered and life course approach.
Sustainable and climate-conscious
States have an obligation to implement policies and to provide and promote the conditions in which healthy diets, and the food systems that sustain them, can be enjoyed by future generations, without exhausting the resource base that our children and their children will rely upon, and the environments in which they will live.
Coherence and alignment with Agenda 2030 and other global agendas
Guidance will be most useful if it is aligned with universal agendas such as Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, including zero hunger (SDG2), good health and well-being (SDG3) – including universal health coverage, sustainable production and consumption (SDG12), climate action (SDG13) and peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16).