Nutritionism, Big Food and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition

In response to growing pressure from eaters who want healthier food, governments that want to take action to protect public health and reduce the costs of diet-related diseases,  and competitive markets that jeopardize profits, global big food companies have launched a multi-pronged campaign to protect their interests.  One element of this campaign is to use nutrition science to justify its actions, a process that some have called “nutritionism”. Nutritionism provides a halo for corporations, legitimizes existing and growing markets for highly processed foods, and helps to preempt and deter direct government regulation.  Three key strategies food companies use to practice nutritionism are fortification, reformulation, and functionalization.  In a talk at the City University of New York School of Public Health entitled “Nutritionism, Big Food and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition”, Gyorgy Scrinis, Senior Lecturer in Food Politics and Policy at the University of Melbourne, analyzed how corporations use nutrition and nutritonism to advance their business interests. Gyorgy is also the author of Nutritonism The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Columbia University Press, 2013.) View the presentation.

Read a related article: Scinis, G. Reformulation, fortification and functionalization: Big Food corporations’ nutritional engineering and marketing strategies, The Journal of Peasant Studies 2016; 43 (1):17-37.

UK court rejects tobacco companies’ appeal on plain packaging

A UK court has dismissed an appeal brought by some of Britain’s largest tobacco companies over the government’s new plain packaging rules, reports Reuters.  In the decision, the court dismissed all appeals brought by British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Brands and several paper manufacturers. The companies argued that the law, which went into effect in May, unlawfully deprives them of their intellectual property by banning the use of all marketing on packages, including logos, colors and special fonts. “This is a victory for public health and another crushing defeat for the tobacco industry,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health.

Why the Tobacco Lobby Doesn’t Provide a Blueprint to Defeat the Gun Lobby

The uptick in mass shootings over the past few years has led to widespread calls for gun reform and the defeat of pro-gun lobbyist groups opposing it. Since the gun lobby currently employs many of the same tactics used by the powerful tobacco lobby, some have reasoned that the same blueprint used to weaken the big tobacco lobby could work for guns. Though the two lobbying groups—tobacco and guns—use similar strategies, the issues they represent are fundamentally different and require different game plans to defeat. An article in The Harvard Political Review, a journal published by Harvard undergraduates, explains the rationale for taking different approaches.

Engaging Young People in Countermarketing Unhealthy Food: The Youth Food Educators Toolkit

Image from YOFE Countermarketing Campaign

This guide provides resources and lessons plans for youth organizations, food groups, schools and health departments that want to engage young people in taking action to reduce the demand for unhealthy food. Based on two years’ experience of the Youth Food Educators (YOFE) Program, a project of the City University of New York Urban Food Policy Institute, the guide summarizes what has been learned from these experiences. More than two decades of tobacco control have shown that countermarketing is effective in reducing youth smoking rates.  Countermarketing describes health communications strategies designed to reduce the demand for unhealthy products by exposing the motives of their producers and portraying their marketing activities as outside the boundaries of civilized corporate behavior.  This guide describes how young people can use this strategy to reduce the demand for processed food products high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt.

Standardised tobacco packaging: a health policy case study of corporate conflict expansion and adaptation

Writing in BMJ Open, investigators conclude that the multifaceted opposition to standardised packaging in the United Kingdom was primarily undertaken by third parties with financial relationships with major tobacco manufacturers. Low levels of transparency regarding these links created a misleading impression of diverse and widespread opposition. Countries should strengthen implementation of Article 5.3 of the FCTC by systematically requiring conflict of interest declarations from all organisations participating in political or media debates on tobacco control.

Full citation: Hatchard JL, Fooks GJ, Gilmore AB. Standardised tobacco packaging: a health policy case study of corporate conflict expansion and adaptation. BMJ Open. 2016 Oct 7;6(10):e012634.

How the Alcohol Industry Relies on Harmful Use of Alcohol and Works to Protect Its Profits

The alcohol industry have attempted to position themselves as collaborators in alcohol policy making as a way of influencing policies away from a focus on the drivers of the harmful use of alcohol (marketing, over availability and affordability). Their framings of alcohol consumption and harms allow them to argue for ineffective measures, largely targeting heavier consumers, and against population wide measures as the latter will affect moderate drinkers. The goal of their public relations organizations is to ‘promote responsible drinking’. However, analysis of data collected in the International Alcohol Control study and used to estimate how much heavier drinking occasions contribute to the alcohol market in five different countries shows the alcohol industry’s reliance on the harmful use of alcohol. In higher income countries heavier drinking occasions make up approximately 50% of sales and in middle income countries it is closer to two-thirds. It is this reliance on the harmful use of alcohol which underpins the conflicting interests between the transnational alcohol corporations and public health and which militates against their involvement in the alcohol policy arena.  Full

Citation: Caswell S, Callinan S, Chaiyasong S, Cuong PV, Kazantseva E, Bayandorj T, Huckle T, Parker K, Railton R, Wall M. How the alcohol industry relies on harmful use of alcohol and works to protect its profits. Drug Alcohol Rev 2016; 00:000–000

Trump Team’s Ag Talking Points


Politico has obtained a list of talking points that offer a roadmap on how President-elect Donald Trump’s Agriculture secretary could shape agricultural policies, including the sweeping promise to “defend American agriculture against its critics, particularly those who have never grown or produced anything beyond a backyard tomato plant.” The document, provided by a source close to the Trump transition, was created for members of Trump’s Agriculture Advisory Committee and appears to date to the campaign.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health