[Marxism] Research Details How Junk Food Companies Influence China’s Nutrition Policy
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 10 08:29:28 MST 2019
NY Times, Jan. 10, 2019
Research Details How Junk Food Companies Influence China’s Nutrition Policy
By Andrew Jacobs
Happy 10 Minutes, a Chinese government campaign that encouraged
schoolchildren to exercise for 10 minutes a day, would seem a laudable
step toward improving public health in a nation struggling with alarming
rates of childhood obesity.
But the initiative and other official Chinese efforts that emphasized
exercise as the best way to lose weight were notable for what they
didn’t mention: the importance of cutting back on the calorie-laden junk
foods and sugary beverages that have become ubiquitous in the world’s
second largest economy.
China’s fitness-is-best message, as it happens, has largely been the
handiwork of Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants,
according to a pair of new studies that document how those companies
have helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on
obesity and diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
The findings, published Wednesday in The BMJ and The Journal of Public
Health Policy, show how Coca-Cola and other multinational food
companies, operating through a group called the International Life
Sciences Institute, cultivated key Chinese officials in an effort to
stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that
has been sweeping the west.
The group, known as ILSI, is a worldwide organization with a Washington
headquarters, funded by many of the biggest names in snack foods,
including Nestlé, McDonald’s, Pepsi Co. and Yum! Brands as well as
Coca-Cola. It has 17 branches, most of them in emerging economies like
Mexico, India, South Africa and Brazil, and promotes itself as a bridge
between scientists, government officials and multinational food companies.
But in China, ILSI is so well-placed that it runs its operations from
inside the government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in
Beijing. In fact, when asked to comment on the studies, the ministry
emailed a statement not from a government official but from ILSI’s China
The director, Chen Junshi, said that the group had always emphasized the
importance of both exercise and a well-balanced diet, and that its
activities “are based on science and are not affected by any business.”
The close relationship with the highest government health policymakers
goes significantly beyond what the companies have been able to achieve
in the West.
Coca-Cola tried similar tactics in the United States by partnering with
influential scientists and creating a nonprofit called the Global Energy
Balance Network to promote a message that exercise, not dieting, was the
solution to the nation’s obesity crisis. But in 2015, after an article
in The New York Times on the efforts and subsequent outcry from public
health advocates, the company disbanded the organization.
In China, beginning in the late 1990s, ILSI organized obesity
conferences, paid the way of Chinese scientists who attended the events
and helped create national health campaigns aimed at tackling the
country’s obesity epidemic, according to Susan Greenhalgh, a social
scientist and China expert at Harvard who is the author of both studies.
China’s public health initiatives almost always promote exercise, and
they seldom mention the value of cutting calories or reducing the
consumption of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages, which many
experts say is essential for losing weight, keeping it off, and
“You can’t use physical activity alone to get rid of obesity,
hypertension or diabetes,” said Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Professor Popkin was not involved in the study, but he has spent decades
working in China to help the country develop nutrition guidelines and
food policy — efforts he said were often thwarted by well-placed
officials aligned with ILSI.
Given his experience, he said Professor Greenhalgh’s findings were not
surprising. “Over the course of several decades, Coke and ILSI have
worked to prevent any kind of food policy that would benefit public
health,” he said. “What they’ve been doing in China is insidious.”
In a statement, ILSI said it was committed to backing “evidence-based
food and nutrition research” and that it did not conduct lobbying
activities or make policy recommendations in the countries where it
“ILSI does not profess to have been perfect in our 40-year history,” the
statement said. “Not surprisingly, there have been bumps along the way.
This is why ILSI has analyzed best practices and has committed to
ensuring scientific integrity in nutrition and food sector research.”
Coca-Cola said in a statement that it had also been changing the way it
funded scientific research through greater transparency and by ending
its practice of providing the lion’s share of money for studies. In
recent years, it added, Coca-Cola has sought to address mounting obesity
in China by offering an array of new sugar-free beverages and through
improved nutrition labeling on products. “We recognize that too much
sugar isn’t good for anyone,” it said.
Professor Greenhalgh’s findings were based on interviews with Chinese
officials and scientists, and a review of public documents produced by
Coca-Cola and ILSI.
She said the industry efforts have been wildly successful, in part
because China lacks a free media or watchdog organizations that might
have been critical of the relationship.
In just a few decades, China has gone from a nation plagued by food
shortages to one buffeted by soaring obesity and chronic diseases tied
to poor diet. More than 42 percent of adults in China are overweight or
obese, according to Chinese researchers, more than double the rate in
1991. In Chinese cities, nearly a fifth of all children are obese,
according to government surveys.
The increases closely follow growing prosperity in China that began in
the 1980s as Beijing embraced market economics after decades of
isolation. In 1978, Coca-Cola was among the first companies allowed into
the country, and ILSI arrived soon afterward. Seeking to identify
influential scientists it could work with, the group found a partner in
Chen Chunming, a leading nutritionist who was the founding president of
the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, the forerunner of China’s C.D.C.
In 1993, Ms. Chen became the head of ILSA-China and she remained a
senior adviser to the organization until her death last year. Professors
Greenhalgh and Popkin said that Ms. Chen was instrumental in stymying
attempts to address soaring obesity by stressing the harmful impact of
consuming highly processed food and sugary soft drinks.
In interviews, several Chinese nutrition experts said they were not
bothered by the relationship between ILSI and multinational beverage
companies like Coca-Cola, and they defended the integrity of ILSI-backed
researchers, praising their professional bona fides. He Jiguo, a
nutrition professor at the College of Food Science and Nutritional
Engineering at China Agricultural University, said that Coca-Cola had
only amplified the notion that exercise is essential to human health, an
idea long espoused by China’s ruling Communist Party.
“The key is that no matter what Cola-Cola or other beverage companies
say, these drinks are just a product,” he said. “No one is being forced
to buy them.”
With sweetened beverage consumption dropping in the United States and
Europe, Coca-Cola increasingly views China and other developing
countries as essential to maintaining profits. China is the company’s
third largest market.
Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said ILSI and other industry-funded
groups that represent the interests of the tobacco, alcohol and
fast-food companies have found fertile ground in poorer nations with
weak public health bureaucracies.
Professor McKee, who wrote an editorial in the BMJ that accompanies the
study, said such groups often claim to be independent think tanks but
refuse to disclose detailed information about their funding.
These groups, he said, support and publicize scientific studies whose
results sometimes muddy the waters on contentious issues like smoking or
alcohol and soda consumption.
“They often cherry pick data in ways that mislead while portraying these
issues as so terribly complex that nothing can be done,” he said.
Claire Fu and Zoe Mou contributed research from Beijing.
More information about the Marxism