Food Industry: Friend or Foe?

Is it possible, appropriate or even necessary to work with the food industry to address obesity? This is a question we will be debating at the upcoming meeting of The Obesity Society.

The point of the  presentation is to explore both the intended and unintended consequences of partnerships and collaborative relationships based on what Solomon and Flores call “authentic trust” (which differs from basic trust or cordial hypocrisy) and built across sectors including academia, the food industry, government and non-governmental organizations.

Why should we even consider partnerships or collaborations? Here is a glimpse of the reasons.

The challenge of addressing the growing epidemics of obesity and associated chronic disease is clearly complex.  The Foresight Obesity System map identifies more than 100 variables causally related to obesity, some specific to individuals and some relevant to their environments, including the food and food messaging environment.  This intricate mix of physical, behavioural, environmental, social, economic and political factors cannot be solved with a simple solution and neither can any single sector or group hope to effectively address it in isolation. Appropriate solutions for complex problems require collaboration across sectors, organizations and disciplines.

Given the many interdependencies between food production and food consumption, we think it is essential to explore how partnership and collaboration with the food industry is possible, acceptable, and maybe even necessary to improve the food supply and other aspects of our food system that affect food consumption.

Partnerships across sectors are possible and there are many examples of successful collaborations built on trust between the food industry, academia, NGOs and government.  But what are the metrics of success and are the potential trade-off acceptable?  Can the unintended consequences of these partnerships mitigate their intended benefits?  Without partnerships will we ever be able to drive sufficient change in the food supply to improve food consumption?

These are precisely the types of important questions we hope to address in the debate at The Obesity Society’s meeting. Stay tuned for details on how everything unfolds. Until then, where do you stand?

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