Tighter regulations are needed to fight growing waistlines, warns critic

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food industry Nutrition Obesity

Tighter regulation of the industry is needed to battle the ever expanding global waistline, says Kelly Brownell.
Tighter regulation of the industry is needed to battle the ever expanding global waistline, says Kelly Brownell.
Increased regulation of the food industry is needed to protect ‘the public good’ and help win the global battle against obesity, according to one obesity policy expert.

Writing an editorial as part of PLoS Medicine​’s series on ‘big food’​, Professor Kelly Brownell of Yale University in the USA warns that the idea that collaborative and voluntary efforts are the only solution is a trap.

"The obesity crisis is made worse by the way industry formulates and markets its products and so must be regulated to prevent excesses and to protect the public good,"​ says Brownell.

He argues that left to regulate itself, the food industry has the opportunity, if not the mandate from shareholders, to sell more products irrespective of their impact on consumers. Therefore governments, foundations, and other powerful institutions should be working for regulation, not collaboration, he warns.

“Many political bodies, foundations, and scientists believe that working collaboratively with the food industry is the path for change,”​ notes the Yale Professor, who is based at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

“The assumption is that this industry is somehow different than others, and that because people must eat, the industry is here to stay, and like it or not, working with them is the only solution.”

“Based on my 30 years of experience in the public health and policy sectors, I believe this position is a trap.”

Is industry action enough?

The obesity epidemic has already received strong attention from industry, with Brownell conceding that food companies “are doing things".

“The question is whether these things are meaningful or are the predictable behaviour of an industry under threat and are designed to stop rather than support public health efforts.”

“The food industry has had plenty of time to prove itself trustworthy,”​ he claims. “It has been in high gear, making promises to behave better, but minor progress creates an impression of change while larger attempts to subvert the agenda carry on.”

He warns that the bottom line is that the food industry must defend its core practices against all threats in order to produce short-term earnings and sell more products.

Fundamental battle

Brownell argues that the ‘arresting reality’ is that companies must sell less food if the population is to lose weight.

“This pits the fundamental purpose of the food industry against public health goals,”​ he says.

The Yale expert warns that several tactics need to be employed in order to succeed in the battle against obesity. While ‘respectful dialogue’ with industry is desirable, and can lead to voluntary changes “that inch us forward”, ​Brownell argues there must be recognition that such tactics will bring only small victories.

“To take the obesity problem seriously will require courage, leaders who will not back down in the face of harsh industry tactics, and regulation with purpose.”

Source: PLoS Medicine
Volume 9, Issue 7, e1001254, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001254
“Thinking Forward: The Quicksand of Appeasing the Food Industry”
Author: K. Brownell

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more regulations is not the answer

Posted by Lance,

good lord. that's all we need is more taxes and more regulations. people who are obese should pay higher health insurance premiums in the US/Canada - it's their choice to eat garbage and laze about. why should I pay higher taxes on foods and health care costs, if I eat healthy, exercise, etc? I'm sure people would put a lot more effort into getting off the couch if it hit them directly in the pocket books. blanket taxes on "bad" foods is not feasible....

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The Big conspiracy

Posted by Mark,

Professor Brownell gets off to a good start, but doesn't fully list the motivations to keep Americans obese. The food industry is not acting alone. Since bigger bodies require larger amounts of clothing, food manufacturers obviously are in league with the garment industry. Larger bodies need larger, and heavier cars. The gas companies love the resulting lower mpg. Lastly, obese people are more likely 'couch potatoes' so the home entertainment industry is thriving. Against all this resistance, how can meaningful public health goals ever take hold? A starting point might be reminding our citizens of personal as well as corporate responsibility.

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An inch gives a mile

Posted by Gary Miller,

Okay, if you give the government sugar, then they'll want to reguloate sodium, fat-content, grains (which I won't touch). And not just restricting quantities, but requiring additives. Before you know it you have government "feed" that we all line up for. It is a TERRIBLE PATH to go down. Let the market determine the truth. Look what happened to Pink Slime - people think it's gross and "poof" it was gone in 5 months of exposure. Frankly if agribusiness and pharma, together with government agencies and NGOs would quit pushing "healthy whole grains" and this high-carb food pyramid we probably wouldn't have the problems we do. I think the FDA/USDA is ALREADY telling us the wrong things to eat. Why give them regulatory authority???

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