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. 

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

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.

Continue reading 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

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. 

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

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.

Continue reading 2020 Democratic Candidates on Food Industry Consolidation and Regenerative Agriculture

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]

New Studies Show Social Media Food Advertising of Unhealthy Foods and Fast Food Portion Size Increase Health Risks

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Two recent articles show how food company practices contribute to unhealthy eating and  high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases.  The firs article  in Pediatrics conducted an experiment to examine the impact of social media influencer marketing of healthy and unhealthy foods on children’s food intake.  

The study found that children after viewing social media influencers consuming unhealthy snacks , children significantly increased overall intake of calories and of unhealthy snacks specifically compared with children who viewed influencers with nonfood products. Viewing influencers with healthy snacks did not significantly affect intake.

The authors conclude that popular social media influencer promotion of food affects children’s food intake. Influencer marketing of unhealthy foods increased children’s immediate food intake, whereas the equivalent marketing of healthy foods had no effect. Increasing the promotion of healthy foods on social media may not be an effective strategy to encourage healthy dietary behaviors in children.

A forthcoming article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics compared changes over time across menu categories such as entrées, sides, and desserts in fast-food menu items over 30 years.  US national survey data shows fast food accounted for 11% of daily caloric intake in 2007-2010. Fast-food entrées, sides, and dessert menu item data for 1986, 1991, and 2016 were compiled from primary and secondary sources for 10 popular fast-food restaurants.

The authors found that from 1986 to 2016, the number of entrées, sides, and desserts for all restaurants combined increased by 226%. Portion sizes of entrées and desserts, but not sides, increased significantly, and the energy and sodium of items in all three menu categories increased significantly. Desserts showed the largest increase in energy, and entrées had the largest increase in sodium. Calcium increased significantly in entrées and to a greater extent in desserts, but not sides, and iron increased significantly only in desserts.

The authors concluded that these results demonstrate broadly detrimental changes in fast-food restaurant offerings over a 30-year span including increasing variety, portion size, energy, and sodium content. Research is needed to identify effective strategies that may help consumers reduce energy intake from fast-food restaurants as part of measures to improve dietary-related health issues in the United States.

Citations:  Coates AE, Hardman CA, Halford JCG, Christiansen P, Boyland EJ.  Social Media Influencer Marketing and Children’s Food Intake: A Randomized TrialPediatrics. 2019 Mar 4. pii: e20182554.

McCrory MA, Harbaugh AG, Appeadu S, Roberts SB. Fast-Food Offerings in the United States in 1986, 1991, and 2016 Show Large Increases in Food Variety, Portion Size, Dietary Energy, and Selected Micronutrients. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and DieteticsDOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2018.12.004

Increasing disparities in unhealthy food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth

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Unhealthy food marketing aimed at youth under age 18 is a significant contributor to poor diets and diet-related diseases. Therefore, greater exposure to this marketing by Hispanic and Black children and teens, both in the media and in their communities, likely contributes to diet-related health disparities affecting communities of color, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A new report on targeted food marketing by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity University of Connecticut,  the Council on Black Health , and Salud America! assessed whether the 10 companies with the most targeted advertising spending documented in the Rudd Center’s 2015 report have made changes in their targeted advertising.

By collecting  data on advertising expenditures on Spanish-language and Black-targeted TV programming by company, brand and product category, the study identified  television advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black consumers.

From 2013 to 2017, the total amount that companies spent to advertise restaurants, food, and beverages on all types of TV programming declined by just 4% (from $11.4 billion to $10.9 billion). However, greatly reduced TV viewing by children and teens resulted in large reductions in exposure to food-related TV ads: -28% for children and -43% for teens overall.

Despite this decline, on average children and teens continued to view approximately 10 food-related TV ads per day in 2017. Total food-related advertising spending on Spanish-language TV also declined by 4% over the past five years (from $817 million in 2013 to $787 million in 2017), and reductions in TV viewing and food-related ads viewed by Hispanic youth mirrored declines for all youth. In contrast, total food-related advertising spending on Black-targeted TV increased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2017 ($217 million to $333 million). Disparities between Black and White youth in exposure to all food-related TV ads also increased. In 2013, Black children and teens viewed 70% more food ads than their White peers viewed.

In 2017, these disparities grew to 86% more ads viewed by Black children compared to White children and 119% more ads viewed by Black teens than by White teens. On average in 2017, Black children and teens saw 16.4 and 17.1 food-related TV ads-per-day, respectively. This increased disparity in ads viewed resulted from increased food-related spending on Black-targeted TV advertising as well as greater declines in TV watching among white than Black children.

The authors of the report call on food manufacturers to market healthy products to Black and Hispanic consumers and for fast-food, candy, sugary drink, and unhealthy snack food brands to stop disproportionately targeting their advertising in Spanish-language and Black-targeted media. Public health advocacy campaigns should also focus on improving marketing practices of companies that disproportionately target Hispanic and Black youth and explore opportunities to engage youth of color in campaigns to address targeted food marketing as a social justice issue.

Read the full report.