Background and aims
US tobacco companies owned leading US food companies from 1980 to 2001. We measured whether hyper-palatable foods (HPF) were disproportionately developed in tobacco-owned food companies, resulting in substantial tobacco-related influence on the US food system.
The study involved a review of primary industry documents to identify food brands that were tobacco company-owned. Data sets from the US Department of Agriculture were integrated to facilitate longitudinal analyses estimating the degree to which foods were formulated to be hyper-palatable, based on tobacco ownership.
Setting and cases
United States Department of Agriculture data sets were used to identify HPF foods that were (n = 105) and were not (n = 587) owned by US tobacco companies from 1988 to 2001.
A standardized definition from Fazzino et al. (2019) was used to identify HPF. HPF items were identified overall and by HPF group: fat and sodium HPF, fat and sugar HPF and carbohydrates and sodium HPF.
Tobacco-owned foods were 29% more likely to be classified as fat and sodium HPF and 80% more likely to be classified as carbohydrate and sodium HPF than foods that were not tobacco-owned between 1988 and 2001 (P-values = 0.005–0.009). The availability of fat and sodium HPF (> 57%) and carbohydrate and sodium HPF (> 17%) was high in 2018 regardless of prior tobacco-ownership status, suggesting widespread saturation into the food system.
Tobacco companies appear to have selectively disseminated hyper-palatable foods into the US food system between 1988 and 2001.