In a commentary, in World Nutrition, David Sanders, Claudio Schuftan, and Vandana Prasad write, “There are common roots underlying both under and ‘over-nutrition’ in our globalized world. These pertain to the impact on food systems of current practices related to food production, processing, manufacture, distribution, trade and commerce, as well as to the power differentials between those who are most affected by and those who benefit most from the current food system.
The unregulated penetration of food and beverage companies and the aggressive marketing of processed and ultra-processed foods have been severely compounding the problem of malnutrition and the underlying food insecurity. This process is driven by mega agribusiness conglomerates and transnational food and beverage corporations through the employment of technologies and practices that are energy intensive and ecologically unsustainable, and that are also implicated in environmental degradation and climate change… In sum, malnutrition in all its forms, food insecurity and the erosion of food sovereignty are all socially and politically determined. It is inadequate to acknowledge the continuing crisis of malnutrition and the inequalities it engenders without addressing their political roots and the conditions that perpetuate this.”
Four recent books dealing with the political economy of global health are reviewed in a recent issue of Critical Public Health. Drawing on the material covered in these sources, the reviewer argues that the concepts of capitalism, imperialism and class (at the national and global levels) are fundamental to a critical public health in the present era of economic globalization.
A new study in Public Health Nutrition analyzed the corporate political activity (CPA) of major food industry actors in France. The analysis shows that the main practices used by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were the framing of diet and public health issues in ways favorable to the company, and their involvement in the community. The French National Association of Agribusiness Industries primarily used the ‘information and messaging’ strategy (e.g. by promoting deregulation and shaping the evidence base on diet- and public health-related issues), as well as the ‘policy substitution’ strategy. Nestlé framed diet and public health issues and shaped the evidence based on diet- and public health-related issues. Carrefour particularly sought involvement in the community. The authors found that, in 2015, the food industry in France was using CPA practices that were also used by other industries in the past, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries. Because most, if not all, of these practices proved detrimental to public health when used by the tobacco industry, we propose that the precautionary principle should guide decisions when engaging or interacting with the food industry.
As the United States revisits its trade policies with China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union nations, and other countries, it is easy to get lost in the complex national and global business, political and social issues at play. For public health researchers and scholars, the new debates on trade provide an opportunity to deepen public understanding of the health and social consequences of various trade regimes.
In a recent articlein Global Social Policy, Ashley Schram examines the impact of trade on non-communicable diseases:
Trade and investment policy has the capacity to support or undermine global action on rising noncommunicable disease (NCD) rates. This article will employ a political science approach to explore how ideology, institutions and interests within the trade and investment policy space may constrain policy recommendations made in the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan (GAP) on NCDs. Specifically, it details how neoliberal ideology may constrain public health values, how the new constitutionalism may constrain public health legitimacy and how disparities in money, power and resources between elite economic actors and public policy actors may constrain the capacity of public health to influence trade and investment agreement negotiations. The implications of these constraints on the implementation of the GAP-NCDs are discussed.
The Schram article is contained in a special issueof Global Social Policyon trade and health for which some articlesare available open access.
For other perspectives on trade and health, visitthe link to the Livestream and resources presented at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute’s recent forum on Food, Trade, & Health: What Are the Connections?The speakers are: Alyshia Galvez, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at Lehman College and the former director of the Jaime Lucero Institute of Mexican Studies at City University of New York. She is author of the forthcoming book, Eating NAFTA: Trade and Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico and David Sanders,founder and Emeritus Professor of the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. He is also a founder of the People’s Health Movement, a global movement that promotes health justice. For decades, he has studied the health consequences of South Africa’s changing food system.
Unhealthy foods are widely available in public settings across Canada, contributing to diet-related chronic diseases, such as obesity and diet-related diseases especially among vulnerable groups, including children and seniors. Healthy food procurement policies, which support procuring, distributing, selling, and serving healthier foods, have recently emerged as a promising strategy to counter this public health issue by increasing access to healthier foods. Although numerous Canadian health and scientific organizations have recommended such policies, they have not yet been broadly implemented in Canada. To inform further policy action on healthy food procurement in a Canadian context, the authors conducted an evidence synthesis to assess the impact of healthy food procurement policies on health outcomes and sales, intake, and availability of healthier food. Based on this review, they recommend policies and practices for governments, publicly funded institutions, decision-makers and professionals, citizens, and researchers. They conclude that implementation of healthy food procurement policies can increase Canadians’ access to healthier foods as part of a broader vision for food policy in Canada.
Citation: Raine KD, Atkey K, Olstad DL, et al. Healthy food procurement and nutrition standards in public facilities: evidence synthesis and consensus policy recommendations. Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can. 2018 ;38(1):6-17.
Public health advocates argue that unhealthy food marketing to children infringes children’s rights, given its link to obesity, and that states have an obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘UNCRC’) to protect children from such marketing. This article explains how international human rights concepts could be used to impose obligations directly on companies to modify their practices to protect children from unhealthy food marketing. We draw on the global governance framework that creates human rights obligations for businesses, and evaluate voluntary codes and initiatives on responsible marketing to children in Australia, to see whether they satisfy the obligations imposed under this framework and the UNCRC. Finding significant limitations in these measures, we set out recommendations for how the food industry could take an approach to food marketing that places children’s best interests as a primary consideration.
Citation: Handsley E, Reeve B. Holding Food Companies Responsible for Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children: Can International Human Rights Instruments Provide a New Approach? University of New South Wales Law Journal, 2018 (41)2: 1-41.
Source: USDA, 2018 from 2012-13 data.
This chart recently released by the USDA’s Economic Research Service shows that more than 90 percent of the calories consumed by U.S. residents come from the commercial food sector: supermarkets and other food stores, restaurants and other food service outlets. Fewer than 10 percent of calories come from those sectors of the food system controlled by the public (e.g., school food), individuals or nonprofit organizations. Since the composition of commercial sector food is highly controlled by giant food corporations, these products are more likely to be the high in fat, sugar and salt. The global food system is built on the more profitable highly processed products that are easier to store, ship and market, even though they are the primary causes of the global epidemics of diet-related diseases.
Nutrition and public health researchers and food advocates should be asking: what would it take to increase the less than 10 percent of calories that comes from sources other than Big Food to 15 or 20 percent? And how can the non-commercial food sector—food systems controlled by public and civil society groups– serve as both a healthier alternative to and a competitive pressure on transnational corporate food producers?