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Bloomberg reports on a new study released by the Lancet Commission on Obesity suggesting that Big Food companies are “the new Big Tobacco,” with enormous culpability for not just the global obesity epidemic, but also malnutrition and climate change.

According to the story, the Commission “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 released late Sunday called for restricting the industry - led by multinationals such as Nestle SA, McDonald’s Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. - from policy-related discussions.”

Some excerpts from the story:

• “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’s authors said. ‘The coexistence 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.”

Needless to say, there is industry pushback on the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations:

“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, the Washington-based International Council of Beverages Associations said in an emailed statement … Coca-Cola said it backed the council’s view. A Nestle spokesman said the company has tackled obesity and undernutrition for many years and will continue to do so. McDonald’s representatives declined to comment until they had seen the report.”
KC's View:
I’m not sure that I’d equate Big Food with Big Tobacco, if only because the latter has rarely done anything to address the severe health issues (like death!) that all their products cause, and I think many Big Food companies have tried to be more socially conscious and even proactive. They have a long way to go, but I think they’ve learned something from how irresponsible Big Tobacco has been.