The Manufacture of Lifestyle: The Role of Corporations in Unhealthy Living

What causes unhealthy lifestyles? In a new article now online at the Journal of Public Health Policy, I make the case that corporate business practices such as product design, marketing and retailing and corporate political practices such as lobbying, campaign contributions and sponsored research are fundamental causes of the of the lifestyles associated with the growing global burdens of non-communicable diseases and injuries.

By focusing attention on lifestylers, the organizations and institutions that shape lifestyles, as well as on the behaviors associated with unhealthy living (e.g., tobacco use, high fat, sugar and salt diets, excess alcohol consumption and so on), we expand our options for developing health-promoting public policies.

The figure below, described in detail in the article, illustrates some of the pathways by which corporate practices influence lifestyle.

This boy sells cigarettes at a small shop in Bangladesh, where over 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15 — a target consumer market for Philip Morris International.

In the article, I suggest four actions that public health professionals can take to advance policies that reduce unhealthy lifestyles.

1. Encourage governments to set advertising standards prohibiting promotion of unhealthy products and making misleading health claims.

2. Strengthen laws making corporations liable for the health-related damage associated with products they produce and promote.

3. Actively promote healthier, more sustainable lifestyles, addressing the demand for unhealthy products as well as the supply.

4. Demand political reforms that reduce corporations’ privileged voice in public policy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement and its critique – a world where fewer than one percent of the population determines the living conditions for the other ninety-nine per cent – suggests the potential to mobilize people in opposition to a corporate-controlled world. Our generation’s public health challenge: Can we find ways to link the Occupy Wall Street spirit to the task of overcoming the corporate control of lifestyles that are killing us?


Image Credit:

1. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids