Would you trust junk food companies to tell you the truth about healthy nutrition? How about supermarkets, or diet clubs? A new investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has uncovered evidence of the extraordinary extent to which key public health experts are involved with companies responsible for many of the products blamed for the obesity crisis through research grants, consultancy fees, and other forms of funding.
Two our of every 3 British men and over half of British women are overweight or obese, a problem that is on the increase. It is a significant problem with children too, with one in five 10 year olds now considered obese. Now it has been revealed that the experts advising the government on how to combat obesity are being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by the junk food industry.
Key scientists behind the policies designed to encourage the public to eat a healthier diet have been given vast sums for their research by companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, Nestlé, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Weight Watchers International, NutriLicious (a public relations firm specialising in conveying “nutrition and health messages” for the food industry), Sainsbury’s, W K Kellogg Institute, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever Foods.
The Government is focused on the Responsibility Deal, getting food and drink manufacturers to voluntarily cut levels of sugar and fat. Yet, the investigation by the BMJ found the scientist overseeing the strategy has been given £1.37million towards her research since 2004 from firms including Coca-Cola, Nestle, Sainsbury’s and Unilever, whose brands include Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Walls ice cream.
In January 2014 it emerged that five members of Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s carbohydrates working group had worked in various advisory or consultancy roles for the food and beverage industry, including Coca-Cola and Mars.
I wish this news surprised me, but sadly it doesn’t. Big food companies only make money when we buy more food. I ate LOTS of processed food products when I was obese, now I rarely eat them at all. Education on real nutrition (eating real food) would drive more people away from processed foods and that is bad for the profits of food manufacturers.
Can self regulation work?
David Stuckler, professor of political economy and sociology at Oxford University, who has written about the impact of the food and beverage industries on public health says, “All this falls into the category of efforts to crowd out public regulation, to try to weaken public health by working with it.”
“They much prefer voluntary self regulation to get government intervention off their backs and will tend to do the minimum required to prevent regulation from upping the ante, just enough to deflect public discontent or government intervention. That’s why at least the real threat of government regulation is a necessary ingredient for self regulation to work.”
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