Most recent update: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - 17:23

Bariatric News - Cookies & privacy policy

You are here

Influencing food policy

Nutritionists must have greater influence food policy

The results demonstrate that the food industry holds the strategic high ground in advocating their interests to policymakers in the contexts studied

Nutrition professionals need to increase their influence on food policy in Australia to dilute the heavy concentration of 'food industry' representatives with direct links to food policy decision makers, according to a researcher from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), who reports that nutrition professionals, scientists and other public interest bodies tended to stay on the sidelines in national nutrition policy-making while the food industry takes the floor.

QUT PhD researcher, Katherine Cullerton from QUT's Faculty of Health, said that her network analysis of policy influencers showed that the food industry had both more and higher level access points to policymakers than nutrition professionals and therefore had the greatest capacity to influence policy. Her study, ‘Exploring power and influence in nutrition policy in Australia’, was published in Obesity Reviews.

"My analysis shows that nutrition professionals have limited direct links to 'decision makers' and the 'food industry' holds the strategic high ground in advocating their interests to policymakers," she said. "Manufactured food companies are powerful players and fund the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the Australian Beverage Association which are highly professional in lobbying and maintain the greatest capability to influence policy.

In her study, a network analysis using four rounds of data collection was undertaken, and the capacity of individual actors and occupational categories to influence policy decision makers were analysed. Network graphs were then developed using cluster analysis to identify the structure of clusters and the path distance of actors from decision makers.

 “The current system of stars to indicate healthy food choices is not perfect but it's better than nothing but it is voluntary in that the food industry can pick and choose which products use the star system. The star system was developed with the food industry which generally gets to call the shots."

The results showed that the assumed advantage for the ‘food industry’ was present both strategically in overall network position and with respect to the number of direct access points to ‘decision makers’, whereas ‘nutrition professionals’ were densely clustered together with limited links to key ‘decision makers’.

"Australia has been languishing without a cohesive national nutrition policy since 1992 that would coordinate nutrition initiatives based on the latest evidence to improve the nutritional status of Australians,” she added. “This situation has been allowed to continue when other countries are undertaking policy action to protect their citizens against dangerous levels of salt, sugar, fat in food to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Instead we have had 'self-regulation' by the food industry lobby whose vested interest has helped ensure no national nutrition policy that could save thousands of lives from poor diets and millions of healthcare dollars."

She added that the results demonstrate that the food industry holds the strategic high ground in advocating their interests to policymakers in the contexts studied, and nutrition professionals may be hampered by their reliance on strong ties with other nutrition professionals as well as limited direct links to ‘decision makers’.

"We need such measures as a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which is a no-brainer, if we want to reduce obesity and diabetes type-2 and regulation of salt in processed food to lower heart disease and stroke,” said Cullerton, adding that in order to decrease obesity and chronic disease we needed population-wide approaches, such as a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

"Mexico, France, Hungary, several states in the USA have all decreased consumption of sugary drinks and increased water intake through government mandate. Nutrition professionals must step up and lobby for a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks that could then be used to subsidise healthy food,” she concluded. “The current system of stars to indicate healthy food choices is not perfect but it's better than nothing but it is voluntary in that the food industry can pick and choose which products use the star system. The star system was developed with the food industry which generally gets to call the shots."

Cullerton said nutrition professionals could learn from the food industry on how to be better lobbyists and consequently better influence nutrition policy in Australia.

Want more stories like this? Subscribe to Bariatric News!

Bariatric News
Keep up to date! Get the latest news in your inbox.