Giant Food companies’ fuel obesity, climate change; Lancet report

Jan 29, 2019

The Lancet Commission on Obesity has called for restricting the industry — led by multinationals such as Nestle SA, McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. — from policy-related discussions. The commission blamed big companies for a system that gorges populations on empty calories while misusing land, energy and other resources.

Three years in the making, the report echoed past indictments of sectors such as tobacco, alcohol, energy and firearms for using political clout to shape laws, policy and health guidelines. The 43-member panel pointed to food companies’ lobbying prowess as a reason for nutrition recommendations that sometimes have run counter to scientific evidence.

Although food clearly differs from tobacco because it is a necessity to support human life, unhealthy food and beverages are not. The similarities with Big Tobacco lie in the damage they induce and the behaviors of the corporations that profit from them.

The beverage industry has responded and remains committed to the United Nations’ call to improve public health with measures such offering lower- and no-calorie drinks, smaller packaging, and responsible marketing.

But the industry is not happy with the report and states that it is unfortunate that the authors of this article take a restrictive and exclusionary approach to broad problems, though Coca-Cola said it backed the council’s view.

The global rate of obesity almost tripled in the last four decades, with more than a third of the world’s adults now in a weight range that increases risks of heart disease, cancer and other disorders, according to the WHO. Meanwhile, almost half of children under the age of 5 don’t get needed nutrients — mostly in low- and middle-income countries — even as average weight increases.

The same unsustainable approach to agriculture and food production that feeds both obesity and malnutrition also propels climate change, the Lancet report said.

The co-existence of obesity and stunting in the same children in some countries is an urgent warning signal — and both will be exacerbated by climate change,” as changing weather patterns complicate food production, according to the statement.

The group called for a treaty that would exclude the food and beverage industry from policy development, similar to the WHO’s global conventions on tobacco. And because food production is one of the largest contributors to climate change, $5 trillion in U.S. government subsidies that currently flow toward big agriculture companies and fossil fuels should be directed to sustainable farming and transport instead, according to the report.

Taxing red meat to reduce consumption would have benefits across the chain, the panel said, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, opening up more land for sustainable agriculture and potentially leading to healthier diets.

Food companies are trying to make the changes in the right direction, but when the choice becomes health versus profits, they choose profits.

The food and beverage industry, which includes fast-food chains and soft-drink makers, had U.S. lobbying expenditures of $22 million last year, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The industry has been involved in issues like nutritional requirements, labeling information, and advertising, the organization says.

 

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