A new peer-reviewed study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine determined that increased consumption of ultraprocessed foods (UPFs) was associated with more than 10% of all-cause premature, preventable deaths in Brazil in 2019. The study found that approximately 57,000 deaths in one year could be attributed to the consumption of UPFs – 10.5% of all premature deaths and 21.8% of all deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases in adults aged 30 to 69. Across all age groups and sex strata, consumption of UPFs ranged from 13% to 21% of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied
Brazilians consume far less of these products than countries with high incomes such as U S, Canada, the UK, and Australia. This means the estimated impact would be even higher in richer nations.
UPFs are ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesised in laboratories. Examples of UPFs are prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, ice cream, and store-bought cookies, cakes, candies and doughnuts. These have gradually been replacing traditional foods and meals made from fresh and minimally processed ingredients in many countries.
The study’s lead investigator Eduardo AF Nilson states, "Consumption of UPFs is associated with many disease outcomes, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and other diseases..."
In Mexico, companies have taken over food distribution channels, replacing local foods with cheap processed items, often with the direct support of the government and the consequences for public health have been catastrophic.
Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition in 2012. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25 to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9 to 37%. Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of the youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in ten school age children experienced anaemia.
More than half the population of the European Union (EU) is overweight or obese. Without effective action, this number will grow substantially by 2026.
A report A Spoonful of Sugar: How the Food Lobby Fights Sugar Regulation in the EU by the research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) noted that obesity rates were rising fastest among lowest socio-economic groups. That is because energy-dense foods of poor nutritional value are cheaper than more nutritious foods, such as vegetables and fruit, and relatively poor families with children purchase food primarily to satisfy their hunger. The report argued that more people than ever before are eating processed foods as a large part of their diet. And the easiest way to make industrial, processed food cheap, long-lasting and enhance the taste is to add extra sugar as well as salt and fat to products.
The food industry has vigorously mobilised to stop vital public health legislation. The leverage which food industry giants have over decision-making has helped the sugar lobby to see off many of the threats to its profit margins.
Katharine Ainger, co-author of CEO’s report, said: "Sound scientific advice is being sidelined by the billions of euros backing the sugar lobby. In its dishonesty and its disregard for people’s health, the food and drink industry rivals the tactics we’ve seen from the tobacco lobby for decades."
While industry-funded studies influence European Food Standards Authority decisions, Coca Cola, Nestlé and other food giants engage in corporate propaganda by sponsoring sporting events and major exercise programmes to divert attention from the impacts of their products and give the false impression that exercise and lifestyle choices are the major factors in preventing poor health. prominent figures with close ties to the corridors of power have been co-opted to influence policy in order to boost the interests of agri-food corporations.
The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) was founded in 1978 by Alex Malaspina, a Coca-Cola scientific and regulatory affairs leader. It started with an endowment of $22 million with the support of Coca Cola. Since then, ILSI has been quietly infiltrating government health and nutrition bodies around the globe and has more than 17 branches that influence food safety and nutrition science in various regions. Little more than a front group for its 400 corporate members that provide its $17 million budget, ILSI’s members include Coca-Cola, DuPont, PepsiCo, General Mills and Danone.
ILSI has received more than $2 million from chemical companies, among them Monsanto. In 2016, a UN committee issued a ruling that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup, was “probably not carcinogenic”. The committee was led by two ILSI officials.
As far back as 2003, it was reported that ILSI had spread its influence across the national and global food policy arena. The report talked about undue influence exerted on specific WHO/FAO food policies dealing with dietary guidelines, pesticide use, additives, trans-fatty acids and sugar.
In January 2019, two papers by Harvard Professor Susan Greenhalgh, in the BMJ and the Journal of Public Health Policy, revealed ILSI’s influence on the Chinese government regarding issues related to obesity. And in April 2019, Corporate Accountability released a report on ILSI titled Partnership for an Unhealthy Planet.
A 2017 report in the Times of India noted that ILSI-India was being actively consulted by India’s apex policy-formulating body – Niti Aayog. ILSI-India’s board of trustees was dominated by food and beverage companies – seven of 13 members were from the industry or linked to it (Mondelez, Mars, Abbott, Ajinomoto, Hindustan Unilever and Nestle) and the treasurer was Sunil Adsule of Coca-Cola India.
In India, ILSI’s expanding influence coincides with mounting rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
In 2020, US Right to Know (USRTK) referred to a study published in Public Health Nutrition that helped to further confirm ILSI as little more than an industry propaganda arm. The study uncovered “a pattern of activity in which ILSI sought to exploit the credibility of scientists and academics to bolster industry positions and promote industry-devised content in its meetings, journal, and other activities.”
Gary Ruskin, executive director of USRTK, a consumer and public health group, said: "ILSI is insidious… Across the world, ILSI is central to the food industry’s product defence, to keep consumers buying the ultra-processed food, sugary beverages and other junk food that promotes obesity, type 2 diabetes and other ills."