Bringing Corporations and Health into the Public Health Curriculum

As public health students and faculty head back to school this week, Corporations and Health Watch continues its tradition of starting the academic year with a commentary on teaching about corporations and health. Our argument for including teaching about the impact of corporations on health in public health and related academic programs is based on the following premises:


  • Corporations are the dominant economic and political institution of the 21st century and thus have a profound influence on global well-being.
  • The business and political practices of corporations are a modifiable social determinant of health and thus a promising target for public health interventions.
  • To achieve local, national and global public health goals of reducing premature mortality, shrinking inequalities in health,  and controlling non-communicable diseases and injuries  will require making changing corporate behavior as important a public health priority as changing individual behavior.
  • Few public health academic programs adequately prepare their students to investigate, analyze or contribute to modifying the corporate policies and practices that harm health.


Professor Rudolph Virchow
Photo credit

To be effective in fulfilling their responsibility to prevent illness, promote health and reduce health inequalities, public health professionals should be able to demonstrate the following competencies:


  1. Identify corporate business and political practices that affect health.
  2. Develop public health strategies to encourage health-promoting corporate practices and discourage or end health-damaging ones.
  3. Analyze the public health advantages and disadvantages of various government/market relationships
  4. Create alliances with consumer, environmental, labor  and health organizations and movements that seek to  change harmful corporate practices and policies
  5. Describe the roles of public health professionals and researchers in modifying harmful corporate practices or policies.


These competencies can be developed in several ways.  Core public health courses can includes sessions on these topics as they relate to, for example, epidemiology, health policy, environmental health, or health education.  Some programs have developed specialized courses on the topic, allowing interested students to pursue this interest.  (To see a  syllabus for a doctoral course Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Corporations and Health 1900-2012 at City University of New York  click here to request a copy.)  Or a student-faculty interest group can bring together those who want to pursue research, advocacy or practice on the corporate impact on public health. 


Front entrance to the Bloomberg School of Public Health
Photo credit


For the time being, you’re more likely to find a corporate name on the front of a school of public health than to have corporate practices discussed in the classroom.  Fortunately, however, a growing number of resources are available to faculty who want to teach about this topic and students who want to learn more or write papers on corporations and health.  I offer here a short list of such sources.













10 Sources on Corporations and Health for Use in Basic Public Health Classes

(with suggestions for use in Epidemiology (EPI), Health Policy & Management (HPM), Social and Behavioral Health (SBH), or Environmental & Occupational Health (EOH) Core Courses)


Biglan A. Corporate Externalities: A Challenge to the Further Success of Prevention Science.  Prev Sci. 2011; 12(1): 1–11. (HPM, SBH)

Brandt AM.  Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics. Am J Public Health. 2012;102(1):63-71.(EPI, SBH, HPM)

Freudenberg N, Galea S. The impact of corporate practices on health: implications for health policy. J Public Health Policy. 2008;29(1):86-104 (SBH,HPM)

Hastings G. Why corporate power is a public health priority. BMJ. 2012;345:e5124.(EPI, HPM, SBH)

Huff, J. 2007. Industry influence on occupational and environmental public health. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health 13.1: 107–117. (EPI, EOH)

Labonté R, Mohindra KS, Lencucha R.  Framing international trade and chronic disease.  Global Health. 2011 Jul 4;7(1):21.(EPI, SBH,HPM)

Ludwig DS, Nestle M. Can the food industry play a constructive role in the obesity epidemic? JAMA. 2008 Oct 15;300(15):1808-11.(SBH,HPM)

Stuckler D, McKee M, Ebrahim S, Basu S Manufacturing Epidemics: The Role of Global Producers in Increased Consumption of Unhealthy Commodities Including Processed Foods, Alcohol, and Tobacco. PLoS Med 2012;  9(6): e1001235. (EPI, SBH, HPM)

Wiist, W.H. (Ed). Bottom Line or Public Health. Tactics Corporations Use to Influence Health and Health Policy, and What We Can Do to Counter Them. NY: Oxford University Press, 2010. (relevant chapters for all 4 courses)

Woodcock J, Aldred R. Cars, Corporations, and Commodities: Consequences for the Social Determinants of Health. Emerging Themes in Epidemiology. 2008 Feb 21;5:4.  (EPI, EOH, SBH)



In addition to these selected resources, a bibliographic essay on Business and Corporate Practices can be found in the Public Health section of Oxford Online Bibliographies.


Finally, several Corporations and Health Watch contributing writers have websites or blogs that include additional timely material.  Check out these sites:  David Jernigan, Michele Simon, Bill Wiist.



Previous CHW Posts on Teaching about Corporations and Health


10 Ways to Bring the Health Impact of Business Practices into the Classroom  September 2011

Teaching about Corporations and Health  June 2010

Teaching about Corporations and Health: Bringing Corporate Practices into Public Health Classrooms  December 2007