We knew that the food and beverage industry is an important player who helps shape food environments and often interacts with public agencies to influence nutrition policies. What we didn’t know was just how big a role these policies ultimately have on what we decide to put on our plate.
A group of uOttawa researchers took on the task to examine the frequency and nature of interactions between Health Canada and industry stakeholders. It is the first study to analyze strategies used by industry to influence nutrition policy in Canada.
The research was conducted by Darrell Vandenbrink, fourth-year medical student at the University of Ottawa, Elise Pauzé, registered dietician with a master's degree in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, and Dr. Monique Potvin Kent, Associate Professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa.
Dr. Potvin Kent agreed to answer our questions:
1- How was the study conducted?
“In October 2016, Health Canada launched the Healthy Eating Strategy which consists of six major initiatives designed to improve the food and nutrition landscape in Canada. In the spirit of transparency, Health Canada published on their website all communication between Health Canada and stakeholders related to the Healthy Eating Strategy, excluding written submissions to formal consultations. We categorized and qualitatively analyzed the documents from interactions between Health Canada and stakeholders from October 2016 to June 2018.”
2- What are the main findings?
“We found that a total of 208 interactions concerning the Healthy Eating Strategy occurred in this time frame and, of these, 56% involved industry stakeholders. Industry stakeholders were more likely to initiate interactions with Health Canada (94% of their interactions) than non-industry stakeholders (49%).”
“We also found that front-of-package labelling was the most frequently discussed topic by industry stakeholders (discussed in 49% of interactions involving industry).”
“A wide variety of strategies were also used by industry in their attempts to influence policy. Those most frequently identified included: "framing the debate on diet - and public health-related issues", "promoting deregulation", "shaping the evidence base", "stressing the economic importance of industry", and "developing and promoting alternatives to proposed policies".”
“These findings are similar to those found in studies done in other countries but is the first to identify the utilization of these strategies in Canada.”
3- What are the recommendations?
“Our research demonstrates that industry stakeholders are highly active in their attempts to influence Canadian nutritional policies. Policymakers and public health advocates should be aware of these strategies so that balanced and effective food and nutrition policies can be developed.”
The paper Strategies used by the Canadian food and beverage industry to influence food and nutrition policies was published today in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.