Another report targeting the modern food system has been released, this time linking the “pandemics” of obesity, malnutrition and climate change into one “global syndemic” that it calls the “greatest threat to human and planetary health."
The report from the Lancet Commission on Obesity calls for the establishment of a new global treaty on food systems aimed at limiting the political influence of “Big Food.” It would be a treaty modeled after what is already in place for the control of tobacco.
Just two weeks ago, the EAT-Lancet Commission proposed “scientific” targets for a “healthy” diet within planetary boundaries. It called for, among other things, a 90% reduction in animal-based protein consumption. This latest report claims to have analyzed the wider systems underpinning the global obesity pandemic and offers “solutions” to address “decades of policy failure.”
The Lancet obesity commission report is separate from, but references, the EAT-Lancet report and builds on many of the same themes. The U.K. charity Wellcome is behind the funding for both, and the reports share an author, Corinna Hawkes, a professor at City University-London. The Lancet obesity commission is a partnership among The Lancet, George Washington University, the University of Auckland and the World Obesity Federation.
By definition, a syndemics framework examines the health consequences of identifiable disease interactions and the social, environmental or economic factors that promote such interaction and worsen disease. Among the key conclusions of the Lancet Commission on Obesity report are:
• Create a binding international treaty called the Framework Convention on Food Systems, explicitly modeled on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. (The group recognizes food clearly differs from tobacco because it is a necessity to support human life, but that unhealthy food and beverage products are not a necessity).
• Exclude “commercial interests” from national and global policy-making.
• Reduce red meat consumption through taxes, redirected subsidies, mandatory health and environmental labeling and mass marketing campaigns.
• Broadly condemn processed foods, “Big Food,” “Big Polluters” and free trade.
“Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single focused on economic growth and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes. Climate change has the same story of profits and power ignoring the environmental damage caused by current food systems, transportation, urban design and land use. Joining the three pandemics together as the global syndemic allows us to consider common drivers and shared solutions, with the aim of breaking decades of policy inertia,” said Lancet Commission on Obesity co-chair Boyd Swinburn, a professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
Led by the University of Auckland, George Washington University and the World Obesity Federation in the U.K., the new Lancet obesity commission is the result of a three-year project led by 43 experts from the fields of public health from 14 countries. As with the EAT-Lancet Commission, the approach taken has been to find someone sympathetic to the cause within various organizations so as to give the appearance of greater acceptance than may actually exist.
Among the actions recommended, the Lancet obesity commission is calling for the establishment of a Framework Convention on Food Systems (FCFS) -- similar to global conventions for tobacco control and climate change –- “to restrict the influence of the food industry in policy-making and to mobilize national action for healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems.”
Economic incentives must be redesigned and $5 trillion (U.S.) in government subsidies to fossil fuel and large agricultural businesses globally redirected toward sustainable, healthy, environmentally friendly activities. Additionally, a global philanthropic fund of $1 billion (U.S.) must be established to support civil society in advocating for change, the commission said.
“The prevailing business model of large international food and beverage companies that focus on maximizing short-term profits leads to overconsumption of nutrient-poor food and beverages in both high-income countries and increasingly in low- and middle-income countries. The coexistence of obesity and stunting in the same children in some countries is an urgent warning signal -– and both will be exacerbated by climate change. Tackling the global syndemic requires an urgent rethink of how we eat, live, consume and move, including a radical change to a sustainable and health-promoting business model fit for the future challenges we face today,” said Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet.
Guidelines for a sustainable diet, the restriction of commercial influences, the right to well-being legislation and policies for healthy, equitable, environmentally sustainable, economically prosperous food systems would all have an impact across obesity, undernutrition and climate change, Hawkes said.
Additional examples outlined in the newly released report included:
• Reducing red meat consumption through taxes, redirected subsidies, health and environmental labeling and social marketing would lead to healthier diets for cancer and obesity prevention, more land for efficient, sustainable agriculture, providing opportunities to reduce undernutrition and lower greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
• Supporting active transportation through infrastructure, taxes and subsidy shifts and social marketing strategies would lead to increased physical activity and less sedentary time, with an impact on obesity prevention and cheaper transport access to healthy food and employment, potentially reducing poverty and undernutrition and lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
“These actions also need to align with a healthier economy,” Hawkes said. “We need far-sighted policy-makers and private-sector leaders to drive forward actions that produce benefits for obesity, undernutrition, economy and sustainability.”
The obesity commission released its report Jan. 27 as a peer-reviewed paper in The Lancet, a weekly medical journal owned by Elsevier out of London, U.K. The EAT-Lancet report also was published in The Lancet.