Leveling the Playing Fields: Science Journalism and Big Food

Leveling the Playing Fields: Science Journalism and Big Food

I3) Leveling the Playing Fields: Science Journalism and Big Food


“Big Food” corporations (which include both food and beverage companies) have some of the largest marketing budgets in the world. These budgets buy a great deal of airtime and sophisticated public relations services. What role can science journalists play in countering the marketing messages from Big Food?

Despite strong links between the growth of Big Food and epidemics of Type-2 diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and other diseases related to lifestyle, government public health campaigns have also not stepped up as much as is needed to address the correlation between Big Food and disease. Conditions such as T2D have been shown to correlate closely with the rise in consumption of candies, sodas, and energy-dense fast foods. But when countries such as Mexico and South Africa take modest public health steps to reduce consumption and educate consumers, such as lobbying for sugar taxes and salt reduction campaigns, Big Food fights back, deploying similar tactics pioneered by large tobacco companies.

In more recent years, regulations limiting Big Food advertising (such as restrictions on billboards near schools) risk being undone by new marketing initiatives in the social media space, where global brands are able to develop unfettered and very personal relationships with consumers, in particular with young people. On social media, which is consumed mostly on mobile phones, the glamour of these brands can be buffed to a high gloss, while incomplete information or misinformation can spread unchecked.

Investigative journalism, which places crucial information in the consumer’s hands, has been weakened as the digital revolution dissolves the traditional media’s revenue stream. This session will examine ways to fund and support fair but fearless journalism that promotes better consumer choices and investigates Big Food practices and claims.