News Release

Tobacco control style tactics needed to fight obesity epidemic

Tobacco and obesity epidemics: not so different after all? BMJ Volume 328, pp 1558-60

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Global strategies similar to those used against the tobacco industry are needed to tackle the obesity epidemic, argue researchers in this week's BMJ.

Diets across the globe are being shaped by a concentrated and global food industry that is fiercely resisting public health attempts to promote healthy eating, write the authors.

The food industry tactics are similar to those used by the tobacco industry – supplying misinformation, use of supposedly conflicting evidence, and hiding negative data.

Firstly, there is the half true contention that there is no such thing as an unhealthy food, only unhealthy diets. Secondly, the industry contends that the problem is not the excessive diet but the reduction in physical activity.

Thirdly, the industry uses a smoke screen of apparently conflicting scientific data about sugars and different types of fat. "Although scientific knowledge is still incomplete, it is less divided than the industry would have the public believe," say the authors.

Advocates for tobacco control have used a variety of tactics in their campaign that could have relevance for the fight against unhealthy diets, suggest the authors.

"It will be much more difficult to establish internationally binding instruments or conventions like those achieved in tobacco control. Nevertheless, their importance in bringing about changes in national behaviour should not be under-rated," they say.

Potential international standards might cover issues such as marketing restrictions for unhealthy food products, restrictions on the advertising and availability of unhealthy products in schools, or potential price or tax measures to reduce the demand for unhealthy products.

"The public attention generated by the discussion and formulation of such standards may set general standards for corporate conduct without being potentially unacceptable and even generate enough political capital for national legislation," they conclude.


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