International study identifies a “manufacturing epidemic”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 28th June 2012

An international group of public health academics has collaborated in research finding that provocatively describes the role of big companies in low- to middle-income (LMIC) countries as a “manufacturing epidemic”.

The article, commissioned by peer-reviewed online publisher Public Library of Science (PLoS) for their ‘Big Food’ series, was published yesterday in the PLoS Medicine Journal.

The research suggests that low and middle-income countries are being “targeted” by large processed-food manufacturers.

The authors, Dr David Stuckler of the University of Cambridge, Professor Martin McKee and Professor Shah Ebraim from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Dr Sanjay Basu from the University of California, say that consumption of “unhealthy commodities” (including soft drinks and processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar) is increasing at a faster rate in LMIC countries, such as Brazil, China, India and Mexico, than in higher income countries such as the U.S.

Rising income has, in the past, been strongly associated with higher consumption of unhealthy commodities within countries over time. However, this study says that it is not economic growth so much as high foreign direct investment and free-trade agreements that are leading to higher consumption of unhealthy foods.

The authors claim that multinational companies, such as Nestle and PepsiCo and Kraft, have penetrated food markets in middle-income countries as deeply as those in high-income countries. The study identifies Nestle in the top-three manufacturers of packaged foods across all LMIC countries except China.

Also contrary to findings from previous studies, the article states that urbanisation no longer seems to be a strong influence on consumption of “risky commodities” other than soft drinks.

The full PLoS Medicine Journal article is available here.