Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 23 2016

More industry-funded studies. The score: 135/12. Correction: 132/12.

Corrections, February 25:  Several readers have written in to comment that two of these papers do not actually appear to benefit the sponsors.  I have written their comments in red.  A reader also filed a correction to one of listings for February 18.  That brings the score down to 132/12.

It’s been 11 months since I started collecting studies funded by food companies with results favorable to the company’s marketing interests.  I’ve now found 135 such studies versus just 12 with results unfavorable.

When the year is up, I will do an overall interpretation of what this collection does and does not signify, but for the moment I will just state the obvious: it is easier to find industry-funded studies with favorable rather than unfavorable results.

Enjoy this week’s collection.

Latin American Study of Nutrition and Health (ELANS): rationale and study design. M. Fisberg, I. Kovalskys, G. Gómez, A. Rigotti, L. Y. Cortés, M. Herrera-Cuenca, M. C. Yépez, R. G. Pareja,Guajardo, I. Z. Zimberg, A. D. P. Chiavegatto Filho, M. Pratt, B. Koletzko, K. L. Tucker and the ELANS Study Group. BMC Public Health (2016) 16:93.  DOI 10.1186/s12889-016-2765-y.

  • Conclusion: This study will provide valuable information and a unique dataset regarding Latin America that will enable cross-country comparisons of nutritional statuses that focus on energy and macro- and micronutrient intakes, food patterns, and energy expenditure.
  • Funding: The ELANS study and authors were partially supported by a scientific grant from the Coca Cola Company and by different grants and support from the Instituto Pensi/Hospital Infantil Sabara, International Life Science Institute of Argentina, Universidad de Costa Rica, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Universidad Central de Venezuela (CENDESUCV)/Fundación Bengoa, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and Instituto de Investigación Nutricional de Peru. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, the decision to publish, or the preparation of this manuscript. KLT received consulting fees from the Coca Cola Company to participate. MF is member of the directory of Danone Institute International.
  • A reader writes: Coca-Cola undoubtedly hopes that this study will support their efforts to put the blame on lack of exercise. However, the present paper gives no data, and the design does not seem biased. I do not think this paper can support marketing of Coca-Cola.  My response: OK.  Let’s call this one neutral and delete it from the list.

Biofortified yellow cassava and vitamin A status of Kenyan children: a randomized contr.  Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103:258-267 doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.100164

  • Conclusion: In our study population, consumption of yellow cassava led to modest gains in serum retinol concentration and a large increase in β-carotene concentration. It can be an efficacious, new approach to improve vitamin A status.
  • Funding: Supported by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement 211484, conducted within the framework of INSTAPA Project. HarvestPlus provided financial support for biochemical analyses and supplies. Capsugel (Bornem, Belgium), Laboratory&Allied (Nairobi, Kenya), DSM Nutritional Products/Sight and Life (Basel, Switzerland), and Laboratorium Medisan (Heerenveen, Netherlands) provided financial and technical support in producing supplements…None of the authors reported a conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design, implementation, analysis, or interpretation of the data.
  • A reader writes: This study came out somewhat favorably for yellow cassava (non-GMO) and thus for HarvestPlus, but HarvestPlus is a charity with no commercial interests. DSM company provided the carotene capsules for the positive control group, but the study shows you might as well eat cassava naturally high in carotene instead of capsules.  My response: This one is not industry-funded.  Delete from list.

Effects of Diet Composition and Insulin Resistance Status on Plasma Lipid Levels in a Weight Loss Intervention in Women.Tran Le, BA; Shirley W. Flatt, MS; Loki Natarajan, PhD; Bilge Pakiz, EdD; Elizabeth L. Quintana, MS, RD Dennis D. Heath, MS1; Brinda K. Rana, PhD; Cheryl L. Rock, PhD, RD.  J Am Heart Assoc.2016; 5: e002771.  Originally published January 25, 2016.  doi: 10.1161/JAHA.115.002771.

  • Conclusions Weight loss was similar across the diet groups, although insulin‐sensitive women lost more weight with a lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet versus a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet. The walnut‐rich, higher fat diet resulted in the most favorable changes in lipid levels.
  • Funding: This study was supported by the NIH (CA155435) and the California Walnut Commission.

Regular Fat and Reduced Fat Dairy Products Show Similar Associations with Markers of Adolescent Cardiometabolic Health. Therese A. O’Sullivan, Alexandra P. Bremner, Trevor A. Mori, Lawrence J. Beilin, Charlotte Wilson, Katherine Hafekost, Gina L. Ambrosini, Rae Chi Huang and Wendy H. Oddy.   Nutrients 2016, 8(1), 22; doi:10.3390/nu8010022.

  • Conclusions: Although regular fat dairy was associated with a slightly better cholesterol profile in boys, overall, intakes of both regular fat and reduced fat dairy products were associated with similar cardiometabolic associations in adolescents.
  • Funding: Therese A. O’Sullivan received a grant from The Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium Australia (DHNC-MetX06-2011) which provided funding for the analysis and write up of this study. No other authors declare a conflict of interest.

Concord grape juice, cognitive function, and driving performance: a 12-wk, placebo-controlled, randomized crossover trial in mothers of preteen children. Daniel J Lamport, Clare L Lawton, Natasha Merat, Hamish Jamson, Kyriaki Myrissa, Denise Hofman, Helen K Chadwick, Frits Quadt, JoLynne D Wightman, and Louise Dye. AJCN. First published ahead of print February 10, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.114553.

  • Conclusions: Cognitive benefits associated with the long-term consumption of flavonoid-rich grape juice are not exclusive to adults with mild cognitive impairment. Moreover, these cognitive benefits are apparent in complex everyday tasks such as driving. Effects may persist beyond the cessation of flavonoid consumption….
  • Funding:  Supported by Welch Foods Inc…. JDW is an employee of Welch Foods Inc. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest.
  • Comment: Welch sent out a press release: “New research by the University of Leeds in the UK suggests that drinking Concord grape juice daily can benefit certain aspects of memory and everyday tasks in people with stressful lifestyles – specifically working mothers.”  Yoni Freedhoff has additional comments on Weighty Matters:Welch’s Study Finds Grape Juice Makes You Smarter #NotTheOnion.
Feb 22 2016

Energy drink marketing, Australia style

Alexandra Jones, of the University of Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health, was kind enough to forward the promotional activities of V, a New Zealand energy drink, on college campuses during orientation week.

These, to say the least, got my attention.

According to the company’s promotional materials (take a look!), it wants colleges to agree to let it:

  • Put used textbooks into college libraries that V carves out with V-shaped holes.
  • Give prizes including free product, cash, and “life-hack” recommendations such as “sneak booze into anywhere by hollowing out a baguette.”
  • Appoint brand ambassadors to hand out sample cans like “an energetic Christmas charity drive”
  • Conduct ongoing activities throughout the academic year including sending “sneaky ninja staff” into campus libraries to hide V promotions and prizes among the “less helpful, less exciting actual books.”

Here’s how:

We’re going to take an elephant-load of used textbooks and cut a V-shaped hole in the pages.  We’ll put in fake V cans with a super mysterious mystery prize in it.  Most of the time it’ll be free Vs.  Sometimes it’ll be a fistful of cash, but they’ll always have a life-hack recommendation with it.  For example, if it’s a beginner’s Spanish book, the hack says,”¿le gustaria ir a cenar?” is how you say, “would you like to go to dinner,” in Spanish.  As the hot girl/guy in your class and use this $500 for some fancy tapas and sangria (Spanish food).

I suppose this is meant to be funny and $500 ought to be enough for a good dinner, even at inflated Sydney restaurant prices.

Will librarians be amused?

The faculty, understandably, is not.

The campaign has been pitched to Sydney Uni.  Will the university agree to it?

The mind boggles.

Addition, Feb 25: Here’s an article about this.

Feb 20 2016

Weekend reading: Three books about eating: 1. First Bite

You might think that eating is one of those things that comes naturally, but for the next three weeks I’m going to be posting books telling us how.  Here’s the first:

Bee Wilson.  First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. Basic Books, 2015.

Bee Wilson speaks from experience.  She once was a picky eater bordering on having an eating disorder.  Simply eating when hungry and stopping when full is a challenge for many of us.  Wilson explores how food preferences are acquired or made and how culture and environment turn biological needs into obesity-promoting hazards.  Her advice boils down to aphorisms, for example:

  • No one is too busy to cook.
  • Eat soup.
  • Rethink what counts as a main course.
  • Regular exercise definitely helps.
  • If you want your children to eat better, don’t tell them what to do: eat better yourself.
Feb 19 2016

Food-Navigator USA’s collection on health & wellness

Health and wellness and terms like natural and organic help food manufacturers sell products.  Food-Navigator-USA.com offers this collection of its articles addressing the question, “What does health & wellness mean to consumers today? We ask what Americans now expect of the food industry, and which innovative firms are best placed to meet their evolving needs.”

  • Mushrooms: The go-to ingredient for 2016?: Mushrooms will feature more prominently in plant- and meat-based dishes in 2016, predicts the Mushroom Council, which says domestic production and value are at an all-time high, while ‘blended’ burgers, meatballs and tacos combining ground meat and chopped mushrooms are gaining significant traction in the foodservice market… Read
  • How ‘progressive consumers’ are redefining health and wellness… and is fat really back?: While cynics observe that biodynamic cane sugar is still sugar, and gourmet Himalayan pink salt is still good old sodium chloride, it’s a fact that trends which might seem to have niche appeal are increasingly heading to the mainstream, and that a small, but increasingly influential group of what Hartman Group calls ‘progressive consumers’ is now redefining food culture. .. Read
  • Marketing Health: Will the healthier option still be the pricier one?: Forget dieting or “cheat days.” Some food industry observers believe the general populace is more concerned for their holistic health, and the CPG industry is taking the hint. By 2020, opening a bag of chips guilt-free doesn’t have to mean splurging more at the “healthy food” part of store shelves… Read
  • C-stores offer growth opportunity for better-for-you brands: Convenience stores, often considered a destination for indulgent, unhealthy snacks, could offer a new growth opportunity for better-for-you brands as the channel’s core audience begins shifting slightly towards more health-conscious shoppers, according to research from the Hudson Institute and Natural Marketing Institute… Read
Feb 18 2016

The collection continues: 5 more funded studies with results favoring the sponsor. The score: 130/12. Correction: 129/12.

Correction: February 24.  A reader points out that one of the studies posted here had already been posted on January 27  as an industry-negative.  Apologies.  Consider it deleted and change the count.

Yesterday’s post was about a study funded by Disney.  It brought the number of studies funded by companies with results favorable to the company to 125 since last March.  I’ve only found 12 with unfavorable results.  Today’s five raise the count to 130/12.

The association between dietary saturated fatty acids and ischemic heart disease depends on the type and source of fatty acid in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands cohortJaike Praagman, Joline WJ Beulens, Marjan Alssema, Peter L Zock, Anne J Wanders, Ivonne Sluijs, and Yvonne T van der Schouw. Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103:356-365 doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.122671.  I posted this study as industry-negative on January 27; it is listed here in error.  

Dietary plant stanol ester consumption improves immune function in asthma patients: results of a randomized, double-blind clinical trial.  Florence Brüll, Els De Smet, Ronald P Mensink, Anita Vreugdenhil, Anja Kerksiek, Dieter Lütjohann, Geertjan Wesseling, and Jogchum Plat. Am J Clin Nutr 2016; 103:444-453 doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.117531

  • Conclusion: To the best of our knowledge, we are among the first authors to show that plant stanol ester consumption improves the immune function in vivo in asthma patients
  • Supported by RAISIO Nutrition LTD. Test products for the study were provided by RAISIO Nutrition LTD…RAISIO Nutrition LTD is a Finnish food company that is involved in life sciences and sells, among other products, the Benecol brand. RAISIO Nutrition LTD had no influence in the setup of the study or the interpretation of the results. None of the authors reported a conflict of interest related to the study.

Low Calorie Beverage Consumption Is Associated with Energy and Nutrient Intakes and Diet Quality in British Adults.  Sigrid A. Gibson, GrahamW. Horgan, Lucy E. Francis, Amelia A. Gibson and Alison M. Stephen.  Nutrients 2016, 8(1), 9; doi:10.3390/nu8010009

  • Conclusion: Results indicate that NC and LCB consumers tend to have higher quality diets compared with SSB or BB consumers and do not compensate for sugar or energy deficits by consuming more sugary foods.
  • Conflicts of Interest: S.G. is director of Sig-Nurture Ltd, an independent consultancy, which has received research funding from food and beverage and ingredient companies, not-for-profit organisations and trade bodies. None of the other authors had a conflict of interest. The sponsors had no role in the design, analysis or interpretation of the study, or in the preparation of the manuscript

Dietary Milk-Fat-Globule Membrane Affects Resistance to Diarrheagenic Escherichia coli in Healthy Adults in a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind StudySandra J Ten Bruggencate3,*, Pernille D Frederiksen4, Simon M Pedersen5, Esther G Floris-Vollenbroek3, Elly Lucas-van de Bos3, Els van Hoffen3, and Peter L Wejse5.  J. Nutr. February 1, 2016  vol. 146 no. 2 249-255

  • Conclusion: The present diarrheagenic E. coli challenge trial conducted in healthy adults indicates that a milk concentrate rich in natural, bioactive phospho- and sphingolipids from the MFGM may improve in vivo resistance to diarrheagenic E. coli.
  • Author disclosures: SJ Ten Bruggencate, EG Floris-Vollenbroek, E Lucas-van de Bos, and E van Hoffen, no conflicts of interest. PD Frederiksen is an employee of Arla Foods Ingredients Group P/S (AFI, Denmark), which produces and markets Lacprodan MFGM-10, Lacprodan PL-20, and Capolac MM 0525 BG. SM Pedersen and PL Wejse are employees of Arla Foods amba (Denmark). The sponsor was involved in the writing of the manuscript.
  • Comment:  This is the first time I’ve seen a disclosure of the sponsor’s involvement in the writing of a manuscript.  High marks to the Journal of Nutrition for insisting on this.

A 9-mo randomized clinical trial comparing fat-substituted and fat-reduced diets in healthy obese men: the Ole Study.  George A Bray, Jennifer C Lovejoy, Marlene Most-Windhauser, Steven R Smith, Julia Volaufova, Yvonne Denkins, Lilian de Jonge, Jennifer Rood, Michael Lefevre, Alison L Eldridge, and John C Peters.   Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76: 928–34.

  • Conclusion: Replacement of dietary fat with olestra reduces body weight and total body fat when compared with a 25%-fat diet or a control diet containing 33% fat.
  • Supported in part by…the USDA and by the Procter & Gamble Co, Cincinnati.
Feb 17 2016

The strange story of my accepted but then unpublished commentary on a Disney-sponsored study

Last summer, Brian Wansink, a friend and Cornell colleague and the editor of the new Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, asked me to write a commentary on a paper to be published in its inaugural issue.

The paper turned out to be by a group of authors, among them John Peters and Jim Hill, both members of the ill-fated Global Energy Balance Network, the subject of an investigation by the New York Times last August.

Titled “Using Healthy Defaults in Walt Disney World Restaurants to Improve Nutritional Choices,” the paper described the benefits of improving the composition of kids’ meals at Disney World.

The healthy defaults reduced calories (21.4%), fat (43.9%) and sodium (43.4%) for kid’s meal sides and beverages sold in the park. These results suggest that healthy defaults can effectively shift food and beverage selection patterns toward healthier options.

The authors explain:

This work was supported by the Walt Disney Company and by the National Institutes of Health…The Walt Disney Company and the National Institutes of Health had no role in the design, analysis, or writing of this article. Full disclosure: JH is a consultant for the Walt Disney Company and for McDonalds; KA is a consultant for the Walt Disney Company.”

I thought Disney’s sponsorship of this research and its withholding of critical baseline and sales data on kids’ meals that the company considered proprietary did indeed deserve comment, and wrote my piece accordingly.  Brian Wansink soon accepted it for publication but to my surprise, gave it to Peters et al. for rebuttal.  They filed a lengthy response.  I was then given the opportunity to respond, and did so, briefly.

The paper by Peters, et al. did was published in the journal’s first issue.   This issue also includes several commentaries on other papers (none of which are accompanied by rebuttals).

My commentary—and the back-and-forth—however, were omitted.

After some discussion, the journal published my commentary online.  You have to scroll down to find it.  The site provides no links to it in the table of contents or in the article by Peters et al.

Is it possible that Disney or the authors’ contractual relationships with Disney could have had anything to do with the omission of my accepted-for-publication commentary?  Brian Wansink says no, they just ran out of room (despite room for others).

Whatever.

Here’s what I wrote:

Dietary nudges for obesity prevention: They work, but additional policies are also needed

In 2006, the Walt Disney Company announced a new initiative to improve the nutritional quality of meals served to children at its theme parks. The company would be changing the default kids’ meals—the components that come without having to be ordered separately–to include low-fat milk, juice, or water rather than soft drinks, and sides such as apple sauce or carrots rather than French fries. Parents who wanted sodas or fries for their children would have to ask for them, something many might not bother to do. Health groups had long advocated for this policy change (Wootan 2012).

As I commented to a reporter at the time, “going to Disney World is an excuse for eating junk food…Disney or its advisers must be feeling they have some responsibility” (Horovitz and Petrecca 2006). Indeed, the healthier defaults were part of a larger effort by Disney to deal with its contribution to obesity in America. After ticket prices, food is the second greatest source of revenue at Disney World. Although reducing the amount of food consumed at the parks might help create a less “obesogenic” food environment, revenues might fall. But the default change might be revenue neutral. By 2008, Disney could report that two-thirds of U.S. customers ordering kids’ meals had accepted the default, with no loss in sales. In Hong Kong Disney parks, nearly all customers accepted the default. The report, however, did not include data on the numbers or proportions of customers ordering kids’ meals (Walt Disney Company 2008).

Disney’s more recent summary of its child health initiatives states that it is funding investigators at the University of Colorado to conduct a more formal evaluation of use of the default options (Walt Disney Company 2015). The paper by Peters et al. (2016) in this issue of the Journal presents the results of that research. Their work confirms the ongoing effectiveness of the strategy. Nearly half the customers ordering kids’ meals accepted the healthy default side dishes and two-thirds accepted the healthier beverages. These choices resulted in significant reductions in the calories, fat, and sodium in purchased kids’ meals, but not sugar (Peters et al 2016).

The authors argue that gentle nudges changes like these are preferable to more coercive policies that smack of nanny statism. Such reductions help, but are they enough to make a real difference? To answer this question, it would help to know what else the children were eating along with the drink and side dishes. Although the authors were given raw sales data, Disney did not permit them to use this information as part of the overall analysis. The company also refused to provide information about the number of children who visited the park or the number of kids’ meals sold.

These missing pieces raise red flags because this is a Disney-funded study that produced results that Disney can use to advertise itself as a company that cares about kids’ health, and to deflect attention from Disney World’s’ reputation as a junk-food paradise. Corporate funding of research introduces conflicts of interest and reduces the credibility of the results, not least because the biases inherent in such research are largely unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized (Moore et al 2005) The results of this study merit especially careful scrutiny. Taking them at face value, the default strategy worked well for the drink, but the sides are still a problem, and so are the sugars. They do not reveal much about what kids eat in a day at Walt Disney World

Nudges like this default are an important part of strategies to counter childhood obesity. But are they enough to deal with the public health problem? To make a real difference, they need to be accompanied and supported by a range of policy approaches. Current thinking about such approaches recommends combining insights from behavioral research, economics, and public health to establish a food environment far more conducive to making the healthy choice not only easy choice, but also the preferred choice. Doing so is likely to require multiple actions—for example, regulation of nutrient content and marketing; incentives such as subsidies of healthier foods; disincentives such as taxes, warning labels, and nutritional rating systems for unhealthier foods; and education of adults and children (Hawkes et al 2015). Disney’s voluntary default is a small step in the direction of such policies, but many more are needed if we are to make real progress in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity.

  • Margo G. Wootan. Children’s meals in restaurants: families need more help to make healthy choices.   Childhood Obesity 2012;8(1):31-33.
  • Bruce Horovitz and Laura Petrecca.  Disney to make food healthier for kids.  USA Today, October 17, 2006.
  • Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Company—2008 Corporate Responsibility Report. 2008.
  • Walt Disney Company.  Magic of Healthy Living brochure.  2015. https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/sites/default/files/MOHL_Brochure.pdf.
  • John C. Peters, Jimikaye Beck, Jan Lande, Zhaoxing Pan, Michelle Cardel, Keith Ayoob, and James Hill. Using healthy defaults in Walt Disney World restaurants to improve nutritional choices.  J Assoc Consumer Res., 2016;1:1.
  • Don A. Moore, Daylian M. Cain, George Loewenstein, and Max H. Bazerman, editors.  Conflicts of Interest: Challenges and Solutions in Business, Law, Medicine, and Public Policy.  Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Corinna Hawkes, Trenton G Smith, Jo Jewell, Jane Wardle, Ross A Hammond, Sharon Friel, Anne Marie Thow, Juliana Kain.  Smart food policies for obesity prevention. The Lancet 2015;385:2410–2421.

And here’s my response to the rebuttal by Peters et al.

The response from Peters and Hill still fails to acknowledge the severity of the problems posed by Disney’s sponsorship of their research—the company’s failure to produce data essential for proper interpretation of study results, and the level to which sponsorship by food companies biases such interpretations.  At one point, Disney boasted of the results of this research, confirming its benefit to marketing goals.  The threat of industry sponsorship to research credibility has received considerable press attention in recent months, as must surely be known to these authors.1,2 

1  Anahad O’Connor.  Coca-Cola funds scientists who shift blame for obesity away from bad diets.  New York Times, August 9, 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/

2  Candice Choi.  AP Newsbreak: Emails reveal Coke’s role in anti-obesity group.  US News, November 24, 2015.  http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/11/24/apnewsbreak-emails-reveal-cokes-role-in-anti-obesity-group

Feb 16 2016

Encouraging healthy kids’ eating, Woolworths Australia

Thanks to Sinead Boylan for sending me this photo about Woolworths’ attempt to encourage kids to eat fruit.

IMG_1419

 

Wouldn’t you think everyone would be thrilled at the idea of giving free fruit to kids?  No such luck.

Sinaed asks: Is W00lies (which is what they call it) trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

The Australian press worries about foodborne illness.

I think it’s a great idea.  I hope it works.

Feb 16 2016

Sponsored research Down Under: alcohol and violence

Thanks to my friend Jocelyn Harris of Dunedin, New Zealand for forwarding this editorial from the Otago Daily Times of January 16.

The editorial notes that a recent report finding no linkage between alcohol consumption and violence among Australians and New Zealanders was sponsored by Lion, a leading supplier of alcoholic beverages.

The report is Understanding Behavior in the Australian and New Zealand Night-Time Economies: An Anthropological Study.  Its author, anthropologist Anne Fox, lists these key findings:

  • Alcohol-related violence is just one aspect of a culture of violence.
  • There is no direct relationship between per capita levels of consumption and rates of violence.
  • A drinking culture is both a part of and a reflection of the culture as a whole.
  • Efforts at alcohol control will be ineffective if not related to changes in the macho culture of violence.
  • Scapegoating alcohol as the sole cause of violence merely diverts attention from violent men and the maladaptive cultural norms that allow their behaviour to develop and proliferate.

Her recommendations focus on the behavior of individuals behavior.  They largely dismiss the value of approaches such as limitations on alcohol marketing, the times alcoholic beverages can be sold, or the ways beverage companies create local cultures of drinking.

In a nutshell, the central point of this whitepaper is: it is the wider culture that determines the drinking behaviour, not the drinking. You can’t change a culture by simply changing drinking. It is, of course, justifiable to explore the effectiveness of small measures such as advertising restrictions, increases or decreases in price, relaxation or restriction of hours, but such things tinker at the margins of culture and it is doubtful that they will alter the culture of violence and anti-social behaviour in any meaningful way.

The report explains:

We could become totalitarian and try to stop public festive drinking completely, but it would most likely just move into homes. Or we can live with it and try to determine what the worst outcomes are (police overtime, all night transport cost, lost work hours and productivity, accidents and injuries, street clean-up, etc.,), and work to minimise and deal with them sensibly. We would do better to work cooperatively with all stakeholders to engineer conditions for festive drinking that are the least conducive to violence and anti-social behaviour.

In other words, societies should fix the problem at the level of “festive” drinking, but should not bother to try to prevent it at an earlier stage in the chain of causation of alcohol abuse.

The Otago Daily Times editorial concludes:

It is vital we keep debating the issues, examining the causes and hearing all the voices in the debate.

But that debate must be fair and honest.

It is a real shame, therefore, that Dr Fox has effectively silenced herself by aligning herself with an alcohol industry giant when her findings could have made a valuable contribution had they been genuinely independent.

Presumably, Lion got the report it paid for.  But it left itself—and the author’s work—vulnerable to charges of bias, an inevitable hazard of industry-sponsored research.

A shame indeed.

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