Starting on the 19 June 2012, PLoS Medicine will feature a major new series with 7 articles over the next three weeks entitled “Big Food”, which examines the impact of the food and beverage industry on public health. A discussion between PLoS and guest editors in the new series editorial launch reports about the fact that multinational food and beverage industry’s have never been sufficiently scrutinized or raised skepticism regardless of their growing impact on the global health agenda and their major role in the obesity crisis. According to the PLoS Medicine editors:

“Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat, resulting in a stark and sick irony: one billion people on the planet are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight.”

Large food and beverage companies also play a major role on the global health stage by re-branding their companies as “nutrition companies” and marketing their people as experts in malnutrition, obesity and even poverty at major conferences and UN meetings, – but their primary goal is to drive profit through food sales. The editors therefore raise the question: “Why does the global health community find this acceptable and how do these conflicts of interest play out?” The 3-week long series aims to examine questions like these and debate the food industry’s role in the health arena.

Marion Nestle from New York University and David Stuckler from Cambridge University, both guest editors of the PLoS Medicine series say that the public health response Big Food has so far created as a “failure to act,” and argue: “Public health professionals must recognize that Big Food’s influence on global food systems is a problem, and do what is needed to reach a consensus about how to engage critically… [they] must place as high a priority on nutrition as they do on HIV, infectious diseases, and other disease threats.”

Nestler and Stuckler continue:

“They should support initiatives such as restrictions on marketing to children, better nutrition standards for school meals, and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The central aim of public health must be to bring into alignment Big Food’s profit motives with public health goals. Without taking direct and concerted action to expose and regulate the vested interests of Big Food, epidemics of poverty, hunger, and obesity are likely to become more acute.”

The editors invite readers to join the debate via Twitter (hashtag #plosmedbigfood) and invite comments on their articles, which will be published over three weeks starting 19 June 2012 and collected at

People can join a Twitter chat on Wed 27 June at 1pm EST.

Written By Petra Rattue