Nutrition, health policy, and ethics in the age of public-private partnerships

January 23, 2018
A young mother and her baby visit the local nutrition center in rural Madagascar to participate in a discussion around children's nutrition and learn new cooking recipes that promote a varied diet

World Bank

A new publication is making a unique contribution to the global conversation about the working relationships between policymakers, researchers, civil society actors, and the food and drinks industry to prevent diet-related non-communicable diseases — and offering governments real life lessons on how to avoid the potential ethical pitfalls of these relationships.

Global diets have changed significantly over the past several decades, and not for the better: nearly two billion people are overweight or obese, and worldwide non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the root cause of 70% of all deaths.

The resulting social and economic burden is particularly severe in developing countries, which account for 75% of all NCD-related deaths. Faced with increasingly-stretched resources and austerity measures, policymakers and governments in these nations have been working increasingly closely with food and drinks industry partners — many of whom are directly responsible for the production and marketing of the unhealthy and ultra-processed food and drinks driving the NCD epidemic.

A new publication offers unique insight into ways that policymakers, researchers, and civil society actors in low and medium-income countries are working with the food and drinks industry to prevent diet-related NCDs — and offering governments real-life lessons on how to avoid the potential ethical pitfalls of those partnerships.

Produced by the UK Health Forum and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research–Institute of Population and Public Health and IDRC, What can we learn from collaborations between public health and the food and drinks industry? aims to inform policymakers and strengthen governance to avoid and/or mitigate against conflicts of interests in various national contexts.

The casebook is one of the first global research publications to dig into the opportunities, as well as the common governance and ethical challenges, created by these interactions. The stories revealed are wide-ranging. One case explores the governance challenges encountered by a former Fijian health minister in implementing a public-private partnership between the government and the food industry to improve food supply and public health. Another explores whether the relationships between the food industry and a prestigious Chilean university — from funding scholarships to establishing joint programs — pose a risk to the school’s independence and capacity to contribute meaningfully to national policymaking.

Read the full casebook to discover more examples. (PDF, 2.08 MB)