Report Blasts Big Food On Obesity, Malnutrition, Climate Change

Greedy international food conglomerates are responsible for the worldwide obesity crisis at the same time that billions of people suffer from malnutrition, according to a major study released yesterday by the Lancet Commission on Obesity. The findings also link climate change to food production, waste and transportation, and the authors call for an international treaty to combat food industry lobbying and influence.

“Big Food is portrayed as the new Big Tobacco in a sweeping report,” write Bloomberg’s Corinne Gretler  and Naomi Kresge. It “blamed a growth-focused sector for a system that gorges populations on empty calories while misusing land, energy and other resources. Without naming companies, the report … called for restricting the industry -- led by multinationals such as Nestle SA, McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. -- from policy-related discussions.”



“Legislation is needed to reduce levels of salt and sugar in food, force manufacturers to place warning labels on processed foods, and limit marketing to children, they say. Adopting their recommendations would make the inside of supermarkets look ‘very different’ in 50 years’ time, with shoppers no longer ‘pushed to overconsume,’” writes Kat Lay for The Times of London.

“Around the world, not one country has reversed its obesity epidemic, and often, powerful companies driven by profit influence policy that is ‘at odds with the public good and planetary health,’ the report says. It's a problem that has become what the authors call a global syndemic,” writes CNN’s Jen Christensen. “A syndemic is ‘a synergy of pandemics that co-occur,' interact and share common causes. These three pandemics represent the ‘paramount challenge for humans, the environment and our planet.’

“Together, obesity and malnutrition are the biggest cause of premature death. Globally, more than 2 billion adults and children are overweight or obese and have health problems because of it, research shows. People don’t or can't exercise, and that’s the fourth leading risk factor for death,” Christensen continues.

The Lancet Commission consists of 23 commissioners from 14 countries representing 22 disciplines. Its partners are The Lancet, the British medical journal founded in 1823, the University of Auckland, George Washington University, and the World Obesity Federation.

“Mexico’s sugary drinks tax is held up as an example for other countries to follow. Despite attempts by the beverage industry to soften the measures, Mexico added 10% tax to sweetened drinks in 2014. Within two years, consumption of sugary drinks was reduced by 7.6%. The commission calls for a $1 billion global fund ‘to support 100 other countries to apply Mexico’s approach to implement food and nutrition policies,’” writes Clive Cookson for the Financial Times.

“The authors anticipate strong resistance from the food and drinks industry to their proposals. They cite a study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C. which concluded that in 2016-17 the sugary drinks sector spent $50 million in the U.S. to lobby against local initiatives to reduce soda consumption,” Cookson adds.

Indeed, “the food and drink industry has enormous power and the money to exert pressure on governments, said Tim Lobstein of the World Obesity Federation, one of the commissioners. In the U.S. Congress, he pointed out, there are 294 lobbyists from food and drink companies, more than from either the tobacco or alcohol industries,” writes the Guardian's Sarah Boseley.

The report was released last night and most of the coverage and reactions so far are from overseas -- but Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, said U.S. farmers are reducing greenhouse emissions “to record lows.”

“The Lancet Obesity Commission … ignores evidence of meat and dairy’s contribution to healthy, sustainable diets,” he added, Alex Matthews-King reports for the Independent. “Experts in nutrition and the environment have repeatedly warned these radical recommendations are counterproductive and have serious, negative consequences for the health of people and the planet.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the International Council of Beverages Associations says: “Beverage companies agree that the global challenge of obesity demands meaningful, practical solutions and we have taken significant and innovative steps to support sugar reduction,” Matthews-King writes.

“The report was last night condemned by critics as ‘nanny state’ authoritarianism and rejected by the food industry as ‘deeply irresponsible,’” Ben Spencer writes in the Daily Mail. 

One of them, Christopher Snowdon, of the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, says: “Nanny-state zealots are no longer hiding their intention to use the anti-tobacco blueprint to control other areas of our lives. They are openly contemptuous of freedom of choice and make no secret of their desire to bypass democracy and use unaccountable global institutions to further their agenda,” Spencer reports.

Next story loading loading..