Wanted: Objective Scientific Studies of Ways to Constrain the Anti-Social Behavior of Evil, Food-Foisting Corporations


The Journal of Public Health Policy is seeking articles that propose ways to "change the behavior of the food industry." Co-Editor Anthony Robbins, a professor of public health at Tufts, and NYU nutritionist Marion Nestle, who serves on the journal's editorial board, explain:

The processed foods that reach US consumers, and increasingly people in all high-income countries, are remarkably inexpensive, tasty, and convenient to prepare. They are intensely marketed and highly profitable to corporate producers. Where does the profit come from? In part, it comes from use of subsidized commodities. But profits are also generated by capturing increasingly larger shares of the market and by selling the population more food—and calories—than it needs. In this marketing environment, obesity is collateral damage.

The food industry's ultimately anti-social behavior—whether conscious or inadvertent—is spreading globally….Signs of marketing efforts by multi-national food corporations are appearing everywhere in developing countries….

The tobacco analogy: this industry, which deliberately encouraged children to become addicted to cigarettes as early as possible, then continued to market cigarettes even once well aware of the health dangers. We now know the health dangers of obesity, but the epidemic continues. To protect the public, perhaps we can learn from anti-smoking efforts about means to constrain the food industry.

As public health advocates, we know all too well that teaching the world's population about the dangers of obesity and the need to avoid obesogenic foods that are inexpensive, tasty, and convenient will never work if food corporations are permitted to continue to spend massively to encourage the public to eat more of their products. Efforts to control obesity will have to enlist the public to focus on behavior, with a shift from a sole focus on citizens to a new one on the behavior of food corporations.

Food is not cigarettes. We must eat to live. We cannot eliminate the food industry to reverse the obesity epidemic, but we can constrain its anti-social behavior….

We have come to believe that research studies concentrating on personal behavior and responsibility as causes of the obesity epidemic do little but offer cover to an industry seeking to downplay its own responsibility.

Robbins and Nestle are right that the government has no business subsidizing (or otherwise manipulating) agriculture. But neither does it have any business censoring speech that it fears will influence people to eat unhealthy diets (or behave in other ways it does not like). That, at any rate, is the classical liberal view, which  Robbins and Nestle may not share. But they should at least acknowledge this is a moral and philosophical issue, insteading of concealing their political preferences in the language of science and "public health." Their view that bad consumption habits are foisted on people by evil corporations, which arbitrarily produce certain goods (such as "foods that are inexpensive, tasty, and convenient") and then trick people into buying them, is common among leftish critics of capitalism. One can imagine studies that might test the empirical implications of this assumption. Instead Robbins and Nestle jump straight to their conclusion that government must "constrain the food industry," leaving open only the question of exactly how to do that.

More on the anti-market mentality of anti-obesity crusaders here and here.