Food & beverage industries undermining global health

burger fries
Flickr, su-lin

The ‘junk food’ industry is a major threat to global health, according to  study published in The Lancet and as reported by The Guardian, Reuters, the Independent and other news organizations.

Makers of sugary drinks, high-caloric processed foods and other unhealthy food products are employing some of the same tactics of the tobacco industry to argue against causality (i.e., that high-sugar or high-fat foods can be blamed for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease) and for self-regulation, contend the Australian scientists who wrote the report.

“”These industries are taking governments for a ride by saying: ‘We are part of the solution’ and installing codes they know will have no effect,” said Professor Rob Moodie at the University of Melbourne.

What’s at issue here is the widespread recognition within the public health and global health community that a lot of death and disability is caused by so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and the like. Poor diets and the rising global tide in obesity contributes to this problem.

In 2010, nearly 35 million people died from these diseases – or 65 percent of all deaths that year. The NCD death toll is expected to rise to 50 million deaths a year by 2030 if the trend continues. The World Health Organisation has set a target to reduce these deaths by 25 percent by 2025.

Given the increased attention to the toll taken by the NCDs, many health experts argue for imposing regulations and limits on especially unhealthy foods — much like health experts have done for tobacco. Not surprisingly, some within the food and beverage industry don’t like this idea. Some of the first signs of industry’s push-back on this global health initiative emerged at the UN more than a year ago.

Here are a few related, earlier stories:

World Health Organization partners with junk food makers to fight obesity

Pepsi exec tries to convince people that industry is serious about fighting bad food

The news reports cited at the top provide a good overview of the study and the issue, but this report from ABC Science (the ABC, in this case, referring to Australian Broadcasting Service) provides more depth and commentary from the researchers.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.