An important call to action by British cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra.
He starts off by describing how Big Food has co-opted research and health experts over the years, much like Big Tobacco did decades ago:
“Last month, in an unprecedented case, a US judge ruled that tobacco companies must spend their own money on a public campaign admitting that they lied about the risks of smoking. The fact that it has taken 50 years is a testament to how the industry was able successfully to defend its practices. Key to the strategy was buying the loyalty of scientists – planting doubt, confusing the public, giving ammunition to political allies and stalling government intervention.
The similarities with the food industry are chilling. Dr Steven Blair, one of the most published world leaders on the benefits of physical activity, openly declares that he has taken millions from Coca-Cola to fund his research. He repeatedly argues that calorie intake or excess sugar are not linked to obesity, despite rapidly growing scientific evidence to the contrary. Not all scientists make their financial ties to industry so transparent and Blair should be commended for doing so.”
Dr. Malhotra goes on to mention the ever-increasing problem of dwindling public funds for scientific research, which leaves many researchers dependent on the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé:
“But for academics, it is the prestige of publication in high-impact scientific journals that can be the most powerful motivator. And who funds this research? Often the pharmaceutical and food industry. According to Dr Marion Nestle, one of the most powerful voices in food politics: “Sponsorship makes it more difficult to design a study that can give impartial outcomes. If you want good science, you cannot allow corporate sponsorship of research.”
Next, he explains how the denialism that was rampant in the tobacco industry two decades ago is now employed by Big Food and Big Soda:
“It is important to remember that in 1994 the CEOs of every major tobacco company in the US went before Congress and under oath said that the evidence linking smoking and nicotine to lung cancer was inconclusive.
At the American Sugar Alliance international sweetener symposium held earlier this year, Rhona Applebaum, chief scientific and regulatory officer for Coca-Cola, highlighted that food companies needed to fight off the industry’s “detractors”. She also stressed to sugar growers the importance of being “proactive” in talking to consumers about “eating sweetened products while also exercising to avoid obesity”.
Earlier this month, the consumer group Which? declared that the government’s responsibility deal that allows the food and beverage industry to “self-regulate” has failed in its pledge to encourage consumers to eat more healthily. It’s high time for a independent, evidence-driven approach. The industry should either work with government, medics and consumers or be subjected to the same public humiliation the tobacco industry has faced in recent weeks”
This is precisely where health organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, need to step up and stop accepting industry’s weak and empty ‘commitments to health’ as evidence that they are worthy allies. If anything, partnerships with health organizations serve as industry’s shields against meaningful proposals that would hold them accountable to rules and regulations.