While many governments struggle to ban soda to curb obesity, writes The New York Times, the tiny Torba Tourism Council in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is planning to outlaw all imported food at government functions and tourist establishments across the province’s 13 inhabited islands. Provincial leaders hope to turn them instead into havens of local organic food. The ban, scheduled to take effect in March, comes as many Pacific island nations struggle with an obesity crisis brought on in part by the overconsumption of imported junk food. “We want to ban all other junk food from this province,” Luke Dini, the council’s chairman and a retired Anglican priest, said in a telephone interview from Torba.
An Art Deco McDonald’s in Clifton Hill, Victoria, Australia. Credit.
The practices of transnational corporations affect population health through production methods, shaping social determinants of health, or influencing the regulatory structures governing their activities. There has been limited research on community exposures to TNC policies and practices. Our pilot research used McDonald’s Australia to test methods for assessing the health impacts of one TNC within Australia. We adapted existing Health Impact Assessment methods to assess McDonald’s activities. We identified both positive and detrimental aspects of McDonald’s Australian operations across the scope of the HIA framework. We found that McDonald’s outlets were slightly more likely to be located in areas of lower socioeconomic status. McDonald’s workplace conditions were found to be more favourable than those in many other countries which reflects compliance with Australian employment regulations. The breadth of findings revealed the need for governments to strengthen regulatory mechanisms that are conducive to health; the opportunity for McDonald’s to augment their corporate social responsibility initiatives and bolster reputational endorsement; and civil society actors to inform their advocacy towards health and equity outcomes from TNC operations. Our study indicates that undertaking a corporate health impact assessment is possible, with the different methods revealing sufficient information to realise that strong regulatory frameworks are need to help to avoid or to mediate negative health impacts.
Citation: Anaf J, Baum FE, Fisher M, Harris E, Friel S. Assessing the health impact of transnational corporations: a case study on McDonald’s Australia. Globalization and Health 2017;13: 7.
The new Heart & Stroke 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians entitled The Kids Are Not Alright examines how unlimited food and beverage marketing targeted at Canadian kids is negatively affecting preferences and choices, their family relationships and their health. The group polled Canadians to understand their perspectives and commissioned one of the country’s leading researchers to examine the volume of digital food and beverage advertising to Canadian children and teens, to assess the quality of the products, and to examine how well industry is regulating itself — the first research of its kind in Canada. The report concludes that Canadian children and youth are bombarded with ads for unhealthy products all day, every day, influencing their food and beverage choices. This is having a devastating effect on their health and setting up conflict at home.
Unilever’s ice cream brands credit
At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Amanda Sourry President, Global Foods for Unilever presented her company’s views on how food companies need to change. Excerpts from her talk:
At Unilever, we are committed to sustainable nutrition – to food that is both made and consumed sustainably. For us this means producing safe, high-quality, nutritious food that is accessible to all, with respect for the environment and less waste, benefiting the livelihoods of food growers and helping to improve the nutrition and well being of consumers. We recognize the role we have to play as one of the largest food companies in the world to help redesign the global food system, so that it can provide a growing world population with healthy food from a healthy planet….
We must also recognize, however, that the “broken food system” has resulted in a lack of consumer trust in “big food” companies. An external environment shaped by confusing, complicated and sometimes even contradictory nutrition guidance means that consumer trust in science and in scientific experts has often been diminished. It is not enough to fix the system that provides the food we eat, we must also rebuild consumer trust in the food industry, so that we can empower consumers to make healthier and more sustainable food choices every day.
Players in the food industry need to ensure that they are putting consumer health first and foremost when considering corporate policies towards issues like food labelling and marketing to children, and ensuring their activities encourage responsible consumption, so that healthier choices become easier choices for consumers.
Additionally, recognizing the impact of global climate change on the agriculture system, we big food companies must continue to make climate-smart interventions along supply chains, and encourage consumers to transition to more plant-based nutrition…We cannot achieve such massive transformation to the global food system alone. That’s why I think that of all the Sustainable Development Goals, Number 17 – Partnerships for the Goals – is the most important. No single organization can fundamentally change our food system: collaboration, co-creation and partnerships with a variety of stakeholders are key. From the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, to the Alliance for Good Breakfast in Kenya – a partnership between the UN World Food Programme, GAIN, the Health and Education Ministries and our fortified Blue Band spreads – we seek to collaborate with like-minded organizations to create food that tastes good, does good and doesn’t cost the earth…By mobilizing like-minded partners to view the food system holistically from production to consumption, I believe we can co-develop a new global food system that provides universal access to healthy, nutritious food, grown sustainably, while at the same time protecting the natural environment, improving livelihoods of producers and suppliers, and the health of consumers as well. I’d like to think that now is the time, in the spirit of responsive and responsible leadership, for us to come together to do just that.
For the full text, click here.
Interpretive nutrition labels provide simplified nutrient-specific text and/or symbols on the front of pre-packaged foods, to encourage and enable consumers to make healthier choices. This type of labelling has been proposed as part of a comprehensive policy response to the global epidemic of non-communicable diseases. However, regulation of nutrition labelling falls under the remit of not just the health sector but also trade. Specific Trade Concerns have been raised at the World Trade Organization’s Technical Barriers to Trade Committee regarding interpretive nutrition labelling initiatives in Thailand, Chile, Indonesia, Peru and Ecuador. This paper presents an analysis of the discussions of these concerns. Although nutrition labelling was identified as a legitimate policy objective, queries were raised regarding the justification of the specific labelling This analysis indicates that while there is potential for trade sector concerns to stifle innovation in nutrition labelling policy, care in how interpretive nutrition labelling measures are crafted in light of trade commitments can minimize such a risk and help ensure that trade policy is coherent with nutrition action.
Full Citation: Thow AM, Jones A, Hawkes C, Ali I, Labonté R. Nutrition labelling is a trade policy issue: lessons from an analysis of specific trade concerns at the World Trade Organization Health Promot Int (2017) daw109.
Coca-Cola Co. was sued by activists who compare the beverage giant’s advertising tactics to the tobacco industry’s past efforts in minimizing the health effects of its products and targeting children to replenish the ranks of its customers, reports Bloomberg. The nonprofit Praxis Project seeks to stop Coke and the Washington-based American Beverage Association from deceptive advertising of sugary drinks, particularly to children, and for the disclosure of documents related to their impact on health. Studies have linked sugary drinks to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the group said. A copy of the lawsuit is available here.
CNBC reports that the Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it is extending the feedback period for comments about use of the word “healthy” on food packaging. The move gives the food industry and consumer groups more time to weigh in on whether the government should redefine the meaning of “healthy” on food labels. But it also gives the incoming Trump administration more time to review the issue, and could ultimately lead to reforms in the way the government comes up with food and labeling guidelines.