The Telegraph, 10-09-2020,

Major producers of unhealthy food and drink used the pandemic to promote their products at the expense of public health, the report claims

A new report has exposed the sinister ways in which leading unhealthy food and drink brands have exploited the coronavirus crisis to further corporate interests at the expense of public health.

Since the start of the pandemic hundreds of examples have emerged of ultra-processed food and drink companies trying to curry favour with consumers under the guise of philanthropic donations.

Some transnational corporations have even used the crisis as a way to boost partnerships with governments and increase brand loyalty within desperate communities, the report claims.

The paper, which was published by the NCD Alliance and Spectrum on Thursday, reveals how companies across the world employed various marketing stunts to champion unhealthy products as part of the solution to the ongoing public health emergency, despite their known role in exacerbating poor health outcomes.

One example referenced in the report saw fast food company Burger King evoke patriotism in the US and gamify government stay at home orders by awarding give-away products to those who caught a QR-code moving around TV screens.

In Mexico, Nestle, FEMSA (the giant Coca Cola bottling group) and YSA Pharmacies breached the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes by offering to ‘gift’ additional formula to vulnerable families for every can of infant or toddler milk purchased. 

Closer to home, international donut company Krispy Kreme leveraged Covid-19 in a marketing campaign purportedly ‘serving smiles’, which offered 1,500 free donuts to healthcare and other frontline workers at the Royal Free Hospital in London.

“Since the early days of the pandemic, we have observed two trends: the growing epidemiological evidence that people living with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are suffering worse outcomes from Covid-19, and that many producers of unhealthy commodities have rapidly adapted their strategies in an attempt to capitalise on the pandemic and lockdowns,” said Lucy Westerman (photo), Policy and Campaigns Manager with the NCD Alliance and a co-author of the report.

“It is a bitter irony that companies such as tobacco, alcohol and junk food, whose products increase the risk of NCDs, thereby putting people at higher risk of suffering through the pandemic, have positioned themselves as heroes and partners in the response and have interfered in public policies that seek to protect population health.”

NCDs such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, which can be exacerbated by unhealthy diets and excessive alcohol consumption, are responsible for more than 41 million early deaths each year.

Since the coronavirus pandemic first emerged obesity and accompanying conditions such as diabetes have also been recognised as a major risk factor for contracting a more severe form of the infection.

Last week the NCD Alliance published another study in the Lancet warning that progress in fighting such diseases has massively stalled and stated that the UN and WHO targets to reduce premature deaths from NCDs will be widely missed by 2030.

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