ALCOHOL and processed food companies are employing the same tactics as Big Tobacco to increase their profits at the expense of people's lives, health experts say.
The tactics used include industry-funded biased research, political donations, ghost-writing of public policy and campaigns blaming individuals for their choices, an article in The Lancet said on Tuesday.
Trusting multinational companies with the public's health is like "having burglars install your locks", one of the authors, the University of Melbourne's Rob Moodie, said. "You think you are safe but you are obviously not."
About 6.3 million deaths globally were caused by tobacco in 2010, and 4.9 million by alcohol, the paper estimated.
A further 18 million deaths were caused by high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, combined with being overweight.
"Much of [this] could be attributed to the consumption of ultraprocessed foods and drinks," Professor Moodie wrote in The Lancet.
Co-author Bruce Neal, from the University of Sydney and The George Institute for Global Health, said the food industry in Australia was worth more than $100 billion. "It's an incredible earner for the government and it's very influential," he told a briefing organised by the Australian Science Media Centre.
In the past he worked with the pharmaceutical industry to improve public health, but this was not possible with the food industry. "The problem is one of the best ways for the food industry to make profits is to add large amounts of fat and sugar to low cost [foods]," he said.
Professor Neal added that health experts had been working with the government and industry for five years but had seen no reduction in salt in food.
"The best data we have suggests probably average salt levels in food have gone up," he said.
The study also found research sponsored exclusively by food and drink companies was between four and eight times more likely to reach conclusions that were favourable to the company that paid for it.
And in at least four countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda and Botswana - national alcohol policies had been written, or strongly influenced by, the industry-funded and established group the International Center for Alcohol Policies, and the brewing company SABMiller.
The chief executive of the Heart Foundation, Lyn Roberts, agreed there were significant problems with alcohol industry influence but said it would not be pragmatic to exclude the food industry from negotiations to improve public health.
"But we could probably make a bit more progress a bit more quickly … particularly if we are going to meet the World Health Organisation target to reduce non-communicable disease deaths by 25 per cent by 2025," she said.
A spokesman for the Australian Food and Grocery Council said collaborative partnerships with the food industry tackling health issues had demonstrated success both in Australia and overseas.
"The AFGC notes that whilst publicly condemning food companies for engaging in public-private research, both these groups, Melbourne University and the George Institute, continue to seek food industry funding," he said.