Poor diet is a growing and intractable global health challenge which puts a burden on health services and raises hard questions about how and where to intervene. Globally, the food industry has a huge influence on what we eat: almost all the food that we eat passes through commercial companies, whether producers, manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers. Many of these companies are large multinational corporations with huge resources at their disposal. Whether it is through voluntary action, public pressure, or government legislation, little will therefore change in the production, distribution and marketing of food without concerted industry action. Commercial enterprise’s primary responsibility is to maximise profit for their shareholders. Some of the actions required to improve dietary public health are likely to be at odds with these goals. Recent attempts to bring together policy makers, professionals, academics and industry to work towards dietary public health goals have been largely unsuccessful.
Researchers who study food choices and population diet need to understand how the food industry shapes our diets, and if and how they can work with industry, policymakers and the third sector to find solutions to pressing dietary public health problems. This research-industry interface can mean many things, including:
- Studying the industry and its practices
- Research in industry settings, such as stores and restaurants
- Using industry data to answer important questions in the public interest
- Receiving industry funding for research
- Collaborating with industry on research to improve product, efficiency or profit
- Disseminating research findings to industry
Because of the different goals of dietary public health and the food industry, this area arouses strong feelings and raises many questions. For instance, can public health researchers work with the food industry in a way that does not undermine their scientific integrity? Does collaboration with industry harm public trust in science and the advice scientists give to policymakers? Are industry players willing to share data that could provide important public health insight?
This event will bring together dietary public health researchers, those who understand the food industry, and policymakers with a range of perspectives on these and other questions. It will be a forum for debate and dialogue between all participants led by experienced facilitator and journalist Vivienne Parry. No industry funding or sponsorship will be received for the event.
The aims of this meeting will be to:
- debate the roles of researchers, policymakers and the food industry in achieving common goals for dietary public health in the public interest
- explore the challenges, barriers and opportunities to undertaking public health research with the food industry
- identify areas of agreement and disagreement from within public health research community.
We envisage this as the first stage in a process of developing consensus statements or principles on how to engage the food industry in population health research to serve the public interest. The longer term aims of the project will also be discussed at the meeting.