On Big Food, unhealthy partnerships, and the public health benefits of regulation
When the junk food and alcohol industries seek to cosy up to health professionals and organisations, beware.
The aim of such “partnerships” is to stop the sort of regulation that is needed to improve public health and safety, according to the latest JournalWatch article profiled by Dr Melissa Stoneham of the Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA).
Meanwhile, the International Diabetes Federation has been doing deals with the confectionary giant Nestlé, and Little Athletics has hooked up with McDonald’s….
Are we fighting an uphill battle? The need for regulation in the junk food and alcohol industries
Melissa Stoneham writes:
The tobacco industry has a long history of interfering in public health policy – blocking, weakening, delaying and undermining measures to reduce smoking.
We know this because of access to Industry documents released following tobacco litigation which indicate how these industries affect public health legislation and avoid regulation with both hard power (i.e. building financial and institutional relations) and soft power (i.e. influence of culture, ideas, and cognitions of people, advocates and scientists).
These tactics are being replicated in the alcohol and junk food industries suggest the authors of “Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries”, recently published in The Lancet.
The study, led by Professor Rob Moodie, Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne School of Population Health, details the grip that transnational corporations have on global food markets in the developed world and their increasing reliance on low-income countries for continued growth. The authors state that the 10 largest companies now control more than 15 per cent of all food sales – three quarters of which are made up of highly processed foods such as frozen pizza, burgers, biscuits and fizzy drinks.
In the study, the authors assess the effectiveness of self–regulation, public-private partnerships, and public regulation models of interaction with these industries and conclude that unhealthy commodity industries should have no role in the formation of national or international non-communicable disease (NCD) policy.
The study team concluded that the only way to achieve the United Nation’s goal of halving the mortality rate for diseases caused by tobacco, alcohol and poor diet is through greater regulation. The authors conclude that public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.
Many techniques used by industry to avoid or overcome unwanted industry regulation are cited throughout the article, with a key example being marketing which included a barrage of TV advertisements, billboards and well-known celebrities encouraging the public to eat unhealthy foods. Prominent organisations like the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organisation have warned that food and beverage advertising contributes to childhood obesity.
Another strategy is the building of partnerships with health bodies. The report highlights the three-year arrangement between the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and confectionary giant Nestlé announced in 2012.
You don’t have to look far locally to find examples of these types of partnerships. There is the Little Athletics connection to McDonald’s and the Coca-Cola and Carlton United sponsorship of the West Australian Football League. It seems pretty clear that voluntary codes and self-regulation are not working in this highly competitive market!
As public health advocates, our role is critical. Advertising of junk food continues to undermine children’s health despite the food industry’s promises that they would restrict their marketing activities.
As Tim Lobstein recently said, “Asking the companies to restrict their own marketing is like asking a burglar to fix the locks on your front door. They will say you are protected, but you are not.”
• Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries. Prof Rob Moodie David Stuckler, Carlos Monteiro Nick Sheron, Bruce Neal, Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, Paul Lincoln & Sally Casswell. Vol 381; Issue 9867: Pages 670-679.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice.
The Journals reviewed include:
- Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
- Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
- Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
- Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
- The Lancet
- Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
- Tobacco Control (TC)
- American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
- Health Promotion International (HPI)
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM).
These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe to Journal Watch go to http://www.phaiwa.org.au/index.php/other-projects-mainmenu-146/journalwatch
PHAIWA is an independent public health voice based within Curtin University, with a range of funding partners. The Institute aims to raise the public profile and understanding of public health, develop local networks and create a statewide umbrella organisation capable of influencing public health policy and political agendas. Visit our website at www.phaiwa.org.au
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