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Fast food and alcohol companies ‘using similar strategies to tobacco industry’

A Lancet study advocates for regulation, saying that it is the only way to change transnational corporations.

MULTINATIONAL FOOD, DRINK and alcohol industries are using similar strategies to the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies, a new paper has said.

The Lancet has published the paper as part of its work on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and which it says “are now reaching epidemic levels in the developing world”.

Recent estimates show that 34.5 million people died from NCDs in 2010, 65 percent of the 52.8 million deaths worldwide that year. By 2030, NCDs are expected to claim more than 50 million lives every year.

Food and drink industries

The tobacco industry has come under fire in recent decades for its promotion of tobacco products, leading to a ban on advertisement of cigarettes in certain countries such as Ireland.

As part of the Lancet series on NCDs, one study looked at the multinational food, drink and alcohol industries – and found that they are using similar strategies to the tobacco industry to “undermine public health policies”.

The authors’ international analysis of these industries shows that:

despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public-private partnerships to improve public health, there is no evidence to support either their effectiveness or safety.

Professor Rob Moodie of the University of Melbourne in Australia led the study, which proposes that these industries should have no role in the formation of national or international policy on NCDs.

Undermining public health

According to the study, one of the ways that companies undermine public health policies is to bias research findings, such as industry funding of research. Articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies are four to eight-times more likely to have conclusions favourable to the financial interests of the sponsoring company than those that were not sponsored by such companies.

Other strategies include co-opting policy makers and health professionals; lobbying politicians and public officials to oppose public regulation; and encouraging voters to oppose public health regulation.

In [one] example, the Sugar Association threatened WHO that it would lobby the US Government to withdraw its funding because WHO strategy on diet, physical activity, and health highlighted a strong link between sugar and NCD risk.
Despite the industries’ professed faith in these information-based approaches, they avoid disclosure of relevant health information to consumers.

The study also outlines how corporations deal with criticism they may get:

To deflect criticism, corporations promote actions outside their areas of expertise. For example, tobacco corporations promote the prevention of violence against women and ultra-processed food and drink corporations emphasise physical inactivity.

The study notes that the similarities between strategies used by the tobacco, alcohol, and food and drink corporations “are unsurprising in view of the flow of people, funds and activities across these industries, which also have histories of joint ownership”.

In order to combat this behaviour by these industries, and the sale and aggressive marketing of tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed food, which are now major drivers of the growing epidemics of NCDs worldwide, the study says that regulation is key.

However, it says that self-regulation is not the answer. Instead, the study makes the case for public regulation, saying it “is the only way to change transnational corporations; therefore the audience for public health is government and not industry”.

Read: How can Ireland reduce lifestyle-related cancer rates?>

Read: Childers calls for Irish PR firms to declare tobacco clients>

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