Developing a cohesive systems approach to research across unhealthy commodity industries

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A new report in BMJ Global Health explores the links between unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) such as tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food, and gambling; analyzes the extent of alignment across their corporate political strategies, and proposes a cohesive systems approach to research across UCIs. The authors conclude that UCIs employ shared strategies to shape public health policy, protecting business interests, and thereby contributing to the perpetuation of non-communicable diseases. A cohesive systems approach to research across UCIs is required to deepen shared understanding of this complex and interconnected area and to inform a more effective and coherent response. 

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Draining the Big Food Swamp: A Recipe for Human and Planetary Health

“Draining the Big Food Swamp”, a new report by Feed the Truth  and Maplight looks at the size and political clout of one powerful industry that has long dominated Washington politics: Big Food. Big Food is a $1.1 trillion a year industry dominated by a few, highly-consolidated corporations that influence everything from how our food is grown and how we treat essential workers to the health of our children and our ability as a nation to achieve greater racial, gender, and social equity. The report recommends:

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Mapping of food industry strategies to influence public health policy, research and practice in South Africa

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To identify the corporate political activity (CPA) of food industry actors in South Africa, Mélissa Mialon and her colleagues, writing in the International Journal of Public Health,  studied the CPA of ten different food actors in South Africa using a systematic approach to collect and analyze information available in the public domain, including material from the industry, government, academia, and civil society. They found that food industry actors in South Africa established multiple relationships with various parties in and outside the South African government. In addition, the food industry-sponsored community programs, with a focus on poverty alleviation, undernutrition, and food industry actors who influenced science, were directly involved in policymaking and helped frame the debate on diet and public health in South Africa. They concluded with calls for increased transparency, disclosure, awareness of industry strategies, and stronger mechanisms to address and manage industry influence within South Africa.

Do Food Company Corporate Responsibility Initiatives Contribute to Promotion of Unhealthy Food to Children?

A new report in BMC Public Health  examines the physical activity and nutrition-related corporate social responsibility initiatives of food and beverage companies in Canada and their implications for exposing children to unhealthy food messages. Based on a review of documents and websites of 39 large Canadian  food companies, Ariana Kent Guo and her colleagues at the School of Public Health and Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa concluded that food companies, including many that largely sell and market unhealthy products, are heavily involved in physical activity and nutrition-related CSR initiatives in Canada, many of which are targeted to children.  The authors recommend that government policies aimed at protecting children from unhealthy food marketing should consider including CSR initiatives that expose children to food company branding.

Affordability of the EAT–Lancet reference diet: a global analysis

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In a report earlier this year, the EAT–Lancet Commission used available nutritional and environmental evidence to propose  a diet capable of sustaining health and protecting the planet, but it did not assess dietary affordability.  A new study in  Lancet Global Health used food price and household income data to estimate affordability of EAT–Lancet benchmark diets, as a first step to guiding interventions to improve diets around the world. 

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188 Experts call on UN Human Rights Commission and WHO to develop guidelines on proper roles for market forces in healthy diets and sustainable food systems

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In a letter  in BMJ signed by 188 food and health experts from 38 countries called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, to initiate an inclusive process to develop guidelines on human rights, healthy diets and sustainable food systems. The letter notes, “As we approach the midpoint in the UN Decade on Nutrition, the status quo is untenable and bold actions are needed.

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The politics of voluntary self-regulation: insights from Australian Beverages Council

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In new report in Public Health Nutrition, Lacy Nichols and colleagues used a data set of industry documents published by the Australian Beverages Council (ABC) between 1998 and 2016 to analyze the evolution of the soft drink industry’s use of self-regulation as a response to obesity. They also examined the motivations driving its development and the strategies used to promote it to policy makers. 

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2020 Democratic Candidates on Food Industry Consolidation and Regenerative Agriculture

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In a commentary in FoodTank, Tiffany Finck-Haynes, the Pesticides & Pollinators Program Manager at Friends of the Earth,  rates three leading Democratic candidates, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on their policies related to  food. Friends of the Earth Action is focusing on two key agriculture issues in the Presidential campaigns: where candidates stand on corporate consolidation and what their plans are to transition to a just, ecologically regenerative agriculture system which is both climate-friendly and resilient. Fink-Haynes summarizes the positions of the three candidates on these two issues.

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Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents

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Excess consumption of added sugars, especially from sugary drinks, contributes to the high prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity, especially among children and adolescents who are socioeconomically vulnerable. It also increases the risk for dental decay, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, fatty liver disease, and all-cause mortality. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that added sugars contribute less than 10% of total calories consumed, yet US children and adolescents report consuming 17% of their calories from added sugars, nearly half of which are from sugary drinks. A new reportfrom the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association finds that decreasing sugary drink consumption is of particular importance because sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the US diet, provide little to no nutritional value, are high in energy density, and do little to increase feelings of satiety. To protect child and adolescent health, the report recommends, broad implementation of policy strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption in children and adolescents is urgently needed.

Public health and the ultra-processed food and drink products industry: corporate political activity of major transnationals in Latin America and the Caribbean

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To identify examples of the ‘corporate political activity’ (CPA) of the industry producing and selling ultra-processed food and drink products (UPP) in Latin America and the Caribbean, researchers searched the national websites and social media accounts of large industry actors in fifteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Coding was deductive and based on a framework for classifying the CPA of the food industry.

During the pilot study, more than 200 examples of CPA were found in Latin America and the Caribbean. The UPP industry lobbied governments during the development of national health policies. UPP companies tried to build alliances with health professionals, but also with communities where they operated and with policy makers. In addition, the UPP industry fought against regulation in court and proposed weaker alternatives to public health policies, such as self-regulation.

The authors concluded that food systems in low- and middle-income countries, including in Latin America and the Caribbean, are increasingly penetrated by the UPP industry. These countries are at risk of being influenced by the CPA strategies described in the present study. There is a need to further identify, monitor and evaluate the impact of these CPA strategies on public health policies and public opinion in the region, in order to develop mechanisms to effectively prevent such interference.

Mialon M, Gomes FDS. Public health and the ultra-processed food and drink products industry: corporate political activity of major transnationals in Latin America and the Caribbean. Public Health Nutr. 2019:1-11. doi: 10.1017/S1368980019000417. [Epub ahead of print]