(Jan. 21) The ugly American has company.

The threat of obesity to the health of the public extends beyond the borders of the U.S, world health officials contend. For that reason, the 5 a Day campaign to promote fruit and vegetable consumption for better health is gaining serious momentum among officials at the World Health Organization, according to Francis Taccone.

Taccone, director of development for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., helped organize the 5 a Day International Symposium in Berlin Jan. 14-15. The Berlin event was the third biennial meeting. The previous two were held in Washington, D.C.

"The symposium was a huge success on all fronts. We only wished it lasted a little longer," she said.

Taccone said the World Health Organization sent four staff people to the event and their contribution to the event points to the WHO moving to globalize the concept of promoting fruits and vegetables.

Twenty-five countries were at the Berlin meeting, and about eight of those countries had never been represented at previous symposiums, she said.

About 200 attended the symposium — compared to about 120 in previous symposiums — and one of the featured speakers was U.S. Department of Agriculture under secretary Eric Bost.

Taccone said the World Health Organization highlighted research from various countries highlighting the risk of chronic diseases related to obesity.

"They had premier scientists telling us that there is a green light for 5 a Day," she said.

She said that some countries have unique marketing approaches to promoting fruit and vegetables and said the U.S. 5 a Day concept would not necessarily translate in precise form to all markets. For example, some countries promote eating 10 a day, others say 2 plus 2, and others refer to handfuls of produce.

While the WHO doesn’t have a big budget individually, they are influential in setting public health policies in their member states.

Regional meetings of the WHO will examine the topic of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in the next several months, he said.

The U.S. public/private partnership between industry and government was much discussed in Berlin, she said.

The next meeting is tentatively planned for the summer of 2004,and possible venues include Spain, South Africa and New Zealand. That moves the time from a meeting every two years to 18 months or so.

"What happened here is we’ve created some serious momentum, and we need the networking and synergy to keep it," she said.