An international team of researchers warns the three global pandemics that are threatening the lives of people around the world are interconnected and influenced by an entity collectively known as "Big Food."
In a report, more than 40 experts from around the world discussed the three interconnected health pandemics: obesity, undernutrition, and climate change. Called "The Global Syndemic," the three constitute the most severe known threat to human and planetary health.
Worst of all, the three interconnected health pandemics are being manipulated and influenced by vested commercial interests.
The report was written by The Lancet Commission on Obesity and published in The Lancet on Jan. 27.
The Global Syndemic Threatening Humanity
According to the commission, malnutrition, including obesity and undernutrition, is the leading cause of poor health around the world. Ordinarily, obesity and undernutrition would be viewed as separate and different dietary problems.
However, the researchers insist otherwise. They said that at its core, obesity, and undernutrition are driven by the same issues.
"Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories," stated Boyd Swinburn, a professor at the University of Auckland and the co-chair of the new Lancet Commission. " In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes."
Meanwhile, the researchers view climate change as a health pandemic because of the negative effects it will bring on human and planetary health. Professor Swinburn explained that climate change is driven by powerful people ignoring the environmental damage of the current food system and, instead, focusing on making profits.
The Global Syndemic, they said, affects everyone around the world. They constitute a syndemic (a synergy of epidemics) because they occur at the same time and at the same place, share common societal drivers, and interact to produce complex sequelae.
How To Fight The Global Syndemic
The report is the result of three years of research, which was initially meant to explore and address the obesity problem. However, upon further analysis, they found the overarching issue which became The Global Syndemic.
They also explain that even when governments introduce policies to reverse obesity, nothing ever comes out of it because of "policy inertia" — a result of inadequate leadership and lack of public demand for change. Moreover, Big Food is a strong influence that acts in opposition to any call for dietary changes.
The researchers are calling for a global treaty to limit the influence of Big Food and advocacies to break away from policy inertia. Corinna Hawkes, the director of the Center for Food Policy at the University of London and one of the commissioners behind the report, added that reversing obesity will lead to a different food economy.
"At the moment economic incentives are driving us to over-produce and over-consume, leading to obesity and climate change. At the same time many millions still do not have enough nutritious food, leading to undernutrition," she shared. "It's a warped system with an outdated economic model at its core."