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How does industry influence health and nutrition research? Watch the live-stream here

On the 15th of October 2019, public health experts Dr Sarah Steele and Professor David Stuckler came to the Intellectual Forum to discuss the influence of industry over what we know about health and nutrition.

Recently well-publicised research and investigative reporting have upended many long-held nutritional beliefs. We now know that the wisdom that 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day' was funded by the cereal industry. Meanwhile, it’s been revealed that beverage companies have been working to thwart regulation of artificial sweeteners. Industry sponsorship of public health and nutrition research is therefore receiving more scrutiny. In this talk for the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Professor David Stuckler and Dr Sarah Steele explored the levels of influence industry exercises over what we know. They worked through their recent study that considered over 100,000 pages of emails between academics at public institutions, food and beverage executives and policymakers, to reveal the network of influence that controls what the public comes to know about our food and drink. 

David Stuckler is a Professor of Policy Analysis and Public Management at Bocconi University in Milan and an Intellectual Forum Senior Research Associate at Jesus College, Cambridge. Before, he has been a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology and a Senior Research Leader at the University of Oxford. He has published over one hundred peer-reviewed scientific articles in major journals on the subjects of economics and global health, and his work has featured on the cover of The New York Times and The Economist, as well as on BBC, NPR, and CNN, among others. He has written the books The Body Economic and Sick Societies.

Sarah Steele is the Deputy Director of the Intellectual Forum, and a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge. Sarah’s research sits at the interface of Law, Criminology, International Relations and Politics, Sociology, and Global Health. Her works has featured on the BBC, CNBC, the ABC (Australia), the HuffPost, IFLScience, Le Monde, and Times Higher Education, amongst other outlets.

Dr Sarah Steele said: "Over the last century we’ve made huge in-roads into improving the life expectancy of people worldwide, but there is a lot of work to do to make sure people live not just longer, but better, lives. Healthy life expectancy is hugely unequal. It is also seriously affected by what we consume.

Companies are impacting on our health in significant ways, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. It is important to understand these commercial determinants of health.

We know some companies seek to influence the information around their products to improve profit, not public health. They employ favourable researchers and experts, lobbyists, advocacy services, and even set up and fund other bodies that support their commercial interests in less than transparent ways. It is critical that the public are aware. That’s what we highlighted tonight. 

The public must be aware that companies across different industries can impact on their health and wellbeing, and should demand openness and transparency, as well as appropriate regulation, to maximise health and wellbeing for all."

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