Biggest global health risk – Part 2

June 29, 2023 

Last week I invited you to consider: what is the leading risk factor for disease and death across the globe?

Like me, you might have been amazed to learn that it’s not electromagnetic pollution, not chemicals, not fossil fuels. It’s big business!

And Dr Nicholas Chartres, from The University of Sydney, shared with us critical information about how big business influences science, influences regulators and influences public opinion so that its products are sold and used widely. Even though they’re harming our health.

Nick says, ‘There’s a handful of products out there essentially killing 50- 60% of the world.’

This week, Dr Chartres shares with us some solutions. He has advice about what we can do at a personal and a societal level to improve the situation and create a more equitable and healthier world for our families. Here’s a snapshot of his suggestions.

Capturing scientific knowledge

Dr Chartres says a key solution is to increase the independence of science by separating scientific research from the industries that are producing the products. To do this, we could:

  • separate industry money from research funding by ensuring that research funding is managed by public organisations;

  • stop industry from concealing the results of its own research on its products by requiring all studies on a product to be entered in a publicly accessible register;

  • disclose conflicts of interest in research by setting up mandated and publicly available databases of all industry payments to physicians, journalists and other people with influence;

  • require science journals to have stricter guidelines about the studies they publish, for example by not publishing studies conducted by a specific industry or by a majority of authors linked with that industry;

  • conduct sensitivity analyses of research to see if industry-sponsored studies have different findings to independently funded studies (which they often do).

Influencing government regulation and policy

Similarly, Dr Chartres says we need to address the fact that industry funding is hugely influential in shaping the activities of governments and regulatory committees. There is a need to take corporate money out of the government process, he says and suggests this can be done by:

  • establishing rigorous policies requiring people to disclose conflicts of interests, such as scientists working for industry;

  • slowing down the revolving door between government and industry by requiring, for example, a 5-year gap between working for industry and working for government;

  • tightening lobbying laws to cap the amount of money and time industry can spend lobbying governments;

  • restricting industry funding to politicians, political parties and governments.

Shaping public opinion

Dr Chartres says that advertising plays a huge role in normalising the use of products that are harmful for us and our environment. This can be addressed, for example, by:

  • reducing/banning advertising in certain domains to stop industry from targeting vulnerable people such as gamblers and children;

  • requiring plain packaging for some products, such as ultra processed food;

  • requiring warning labels for products known to be harmful, as has been done for cigarettes and pregnant women’s use of alcohol.

Dr. Chartres says we should be protecting the most vulnerable members of our society by reducing the harms of these products. ‘From an economic perspective, it makes no sense if we pay millions of dollars in health care from because of these highly preventable, non-communicable, chronic diseases.’

You can hear more of what Dr Chartres has to say in his interview with Lyn McLean here.

You can see part 1 of our interview together here.

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What else can you do?

  • Looking for answers? Book a phone consultation to discuss your concerns & solutions here.

  • Download your free copy of our July issue of EMR and Health here.

  • forward this email to others to inform them, too.