Researchers in The Lancet are calling for the complete exclusion of multinational food and drink corporations from the development of public health policy.
According to the authors, evidence shows that the food, drink, and alcohol industries use the same strategies as tobacco companies "to undermine public health interventions" and that voluntary regulation has little effect.
"Self-regulation is like having burglars install your locks," Rob Moodie (University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) told the press. "You think you're safe, but you're not."
"Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms we know of to date that can prevent harm caused by these unhealthy commodity industries," he added.
The researchers report that food and alcohol manufacturers have been involved in causing research bias through funded studies, interfering in national policy, and lobbying politicians - strategies they say have been used by "big tobacco" to downplay the negative effect of their products on health and to minimize the negative impact of public health strategies on business.
The authors also highlight the public health danger posed to low- and middle-income countries, whose markets have the biggest potential for expansion while Western markets are saturated and stagnated by the economic crisis.
"Almost all growth in the foreseeable future in profits and sales of these unhealthy commodities will be in low-income and middle-income countries [where consumption is currently low]," they write.
Moodie and colleagues assert that strategies such as self-regulation and public-private partnerships, which are currently favored by most governments must be abandoned: "Regulation, or the threat of regulation, is the only way to change these transnational corporations; therefore, the audience for public health is government and not industry."
Sir Ian Gilmore, from the UK Royal College of Physicians, said that Moodie and colleagues' study was the "final nail in the coffin" for responsibility deals and self-regulation in the alcohol industry.
"Any government serious about public health should in future divorce its public health activities from industry involvement," he concluded in a press statement.
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