Food Industry Lessons from the Tobacco Industry

Hyperbole has a way of creeping into discussions of parallels between the food industry and the tobacco industry. But a recent analysis, published in the Lancet, identifies tactics used by the food industry that closely imitate those of cigarette makers.  The authors’ conclusion deserves careful consideration: “Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.”

According to the authors, the food industry has used its resources to “undermine public health policies designed to combat obesity, diabetes and alcohol-related illnesses.” They state that many in the food industry — specifically makers of highly processed food and drink — are “major drivers of global epidemics of non-communicable diseases” such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. As such, they ask what role these companies can play in the prevention and control of diseases.

The authors take the food industry to task for distorting research findings, paying large sums to build relationships with health-related charities, and lobbying governments to block health regulations. They also blast “nudge theory,” the belief that lightly regulated encouragement to change behavior will lead to improved health. According to the lead author, Rob Moodie, “You can’t expect self-regulation to work. It is like having the burglars install your locks. You think it might work and you are safe but you are not.”

Most of the evidence the study cites involves efforts underway in the U.K., but it’s worthwhile to consider whether similar dynamics occur in the U.S. and elsewhere. Many of the companies are multinational or global enterprises.

Click here to read more in the Independent and the click here to access the publication in the Lancet.

Candy Cigarettes image © Craig Pennington / Wikimedia.

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