Addressing Helsinki conference delegates last month, Dr Margaret Chan said that unlike in previous centuries, improving socioeconomic conditions are now creating conditions that increase disease – including type-2 diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses. Preventing these illnesses goes against the business interests of “powerful economic operators”, she said.
“It is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics,” she said.
Specifically, she mentioned self-regulation, front groups, lawsuits, political lobbying, contributions to worthy causes, and industry-funded research “that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.”
“[Food industry representatives] include arguments that place the responsibility for harm to health on individuals, and portray government actions as interference in personal liberties and free choice.
“This is formidable opposition. Market power readily translates into political power. Few governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything.
“Let me remind you. Not one single country has managed to turn around its obesity epidemic in all age groups. This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.”
The WHO position is that public health policy should be formulated without the involvement of those with commercial interests, she said.
“When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely. This […] is well documented, and dangerous.”