Regulate junk food companies for public’s sake?

U. MELBOURNE (AUS) — Processed food and drink industries play a harmful, not helpful, role in developing public health policies, a new report finds.

Lung cancer from smoking, obesity from an unhealthy diet, and liver problems from alcohol are all examples of lifestyle diseases that are killing millions each year.

The report, published in the Lancet, reveals that despite government reliance on industry self-regulation and public-private partnerships to improve public health, there is no evidence to support either effectiveness or safety.


Lead author Rob Moodie, a professor at the University of Melbourne, says the study shows that these “unhealthy commodity” industries have used strategies similar to those used by the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies and programs.

Through the sale and aggressive marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink, multinational corporations are now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemics of lifestyle diseases, he adds.

“This new evidence enables us for the first time to make recommendations for governments, public health professionals, and society on the involvement of these industries, starting with the proposal that they should have no role in the formation of national or international policy on lifestyle diseases,” Moodie says.

“Regulation, or the threat of regulation, is the only way to change these transnational corporations. It has changed the way the tobacco industry operates and it could have the same beneficial effects on the food industry.

“We have made a significant impact on regulation in Australia with tobacco by increasing the price of cigarettes through taxation, banning advertising and sponsorship, smoke free laws, graphic warnings, and most recently plain packaging. This type of regulation is needed worldwide.”

Study co-author Bruce Neal of the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney says most health problems in Australia are now attributable to a poor diet, insufficient physical activity, tobacco, or alcohol.

“If we in Australia are to reach the World Health Organization’s 25 by 25 target (reducing non-communicable diseases by 25 percent by 2025) we need concerted action to reduce the consumption of unhealthy commodities” Neal says.

“This means we have to move on processed and fast foods in the same way that we have on tobacco. Foods high in salt, fat, sugar, and calories are, unfortunately, a great way for the industry to make profit, so voluntary solutions are unlikely to work.

Source: University of Melbourne