The 2011 UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) called for multisectoral action including with the private sector and industry. However, through the sale and promotion of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink (unhealthy commodities), transnational corporations are major drivers of global epidemics of NCDs. What role then should these industries have in NCD prevention and control? We emphasise the rise in sales of these unhealthy commodities in low-income and middle-income countries, and consider the common strategies that the transnational corporations use to undermine NCD prevention and control. We assess the effectiveness of selfregulation, public-private partnerships, and public regulation models of interaction with these industries and conclude that unhealthy commodity industries should have no role in the formation of national or international NCD policy. Despite the common reliance on industry self-regulation and public-private partnerships, there is no evidence of their effectiveness or safety. Public regulation and market intervention are the only evidence-based mechanisms to prevent harm caused by the unhealthy commodity industries.
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The first strategy is to bias research findings. For example, Philip Morris International implemented the Whitecoat project to hire doctors to publish ghost-written confounder studies purporting to negate links between environmental tobacco smoke and harm. 52 The tobacco companies created quasi-independent organisations to publish biased and partial scientific reports, 53 deny harm, and suppress health information. 46,54 Similarly, funding from transnational food and beverage corporations biases research. A meta-analysis of research publications showed systematic bias from industry funding, 53,55 with articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies four-times to eight-times more likely to have conclusions favourable to the financial interests of the sponsoring company than those that were not sponsored by food or drinks companies. 55 The International Center for Alcohol Policies, an organisation established and funded by large global alcohol producers, commissioned reports from scientists that resemble WHO documents. These reports were “incomplete, not subject to traditional peer review, and either supportive of industry positions or emphasizing high levels of disagreement among scientists”. 56