While a billion people around the world are going hungry, twice that number are overweight. Health researchers are now attributing some of the blame to major corporations in the foodstuffs sector.
Writing in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journal, they call for increased monitoring of the health risks posed by food and drinks produced by so-called "Big Food," as well as for greater awareness.
A series of forthcoming articles is intended to promote a public debate.
"Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat," the researchers write.
In the United States, the 10 largest food producers control more than half of all food sales, according to the article.
At a global level, the figure is lower, but still as much as 15 per cent, and rising.
The PLoS editorial launching the series says that increased consumption of factory-made "Big Food" products is contributing to obesity and diabetes.
The companies nevertheless increasingly appear at major conferences, branding themselves as "nutrition companies" and putting themselves forward as experts on malnutrition, obesity and even poverty, according to the article.
The risk of dying as a result of being overweight currently occupies the fifth position globally, while child obesity is one of the biggest challenges facing public health in the 21st century, the researchers say.
One significant cause is sweetened beverages, the authors point out, explaining that US children had more than doubled their calorie intake between 1977 and 2004. Thirteen per cent of the calories came from sweetened beverages in 2004.
The PLoS journal attributes a fifth of all weight increase in the 30 years up to 2007 to sweetened drinks.
The researchers analysed campaigns launched by the beverage makers, alleging they were similar to those of the tobacco industry, putting too much emphasis on the consumer's own responsibility.
Among the campaigns cited was Coca-Cola's Live Positively in the US. However, the researchers acknowledged that the labels did reveal the calorie content of products made by the company.
Writing in PLoS Medicine, Marion Nestle of New York University and David Stuckler of Cambridge say there are three ways of dealing with "Big Food".
The first is self-regulation with no interference from those responsible for public health, coupled with confidence that consumers will not resort to foods that are detrimental to their health.
The second is an open partnership with the sector to promote the manufacture and marketing of healthier products.
And the third is a more critical approach, if the conflict of interests for "Big Food" is too severe.
Noting that Big Food is primarily profit-driven, the publishers of PLoS Medicine have opted for the third and more combative approach, rejecting self-regulation as ineffective.
"Public health professionals must recognise that Big Food's influence on global food systems is a problem, and do what is needed to reach a consensus about how to engage critically," the two researchers say. They call for nutrition to have the same priority as that given to HIV and other infectious diseases.
They also suggest initiatives to counter advertising campaigns targeting children, to promote improved guidelines for school meals, and to tax sweetened beverages.
Coca-Cola responded that taxation was an unsuitable measure as it did nothing to address the main cause of obesity - the imbalance between calorie intake and expending energy in physical activity.
In addition, the company had no campaigns aimed at children under the age of 12 and had a guideline of not selling to primary schools, said a spokesman for Coca-Cola in Berlin.