Back to School Books on Corporations and Health

For those who make a living teaching about health, August means getting ready for returning to the classroom and introducing new students to what we think is important. A basic premise of Corporations and Health Watch is that every health professional should understand something about the ways corporations influence health and what can be done to prevent or modify corporate practices that harm health.


To help CHW readers contribute to that goal, I suggest five books to add to public health, medical, nursing, social work or related course readings and discussions.  These books have been published or updated in the last year or so, are available for less than $30, and can be used in a variety of courses including introductory public health, health policy, social and behavioral health, epidemiology or social epidemiology and more specialized courses.


I suggest books –in addition to the texts and journal articles we usually assign—because they give students an opportunity to read in more depth on a single topic, evaluate the range of evidence that authors present, and react to the opinions the authors draw from this evidence. The brief descriptions of each book are those provided by the publisher.



Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations

By Jeff Clements, Updated Edition, 2014, Berrett and Kohler


Describes the new fabrication of rights and power for corporations and money, at the expense of the rights of human beings and of democracy itself.  A resource for everyone who want to join the historic work to overcome partisan divides and re-engage in self-government by all Americans — community by community, state by state, and, ultimately, in Washington itself. This 2014 edition is updated throughout with surprising information and analysis about the impacts of unlimited money in federal, state, and even local elections; the spreading “corporate capture of the courts” resulting from the dangerous fabrication of “corporate rights” in the Constitution; and the growing, historic response from people of all political viewpoints to defend democracy and rebuild government of the people. A completely new chapter—“Do Something”- shows how thousands of so-called ordinary people are working to build the “most dynamic, grass-roots movement in the United States,” and offers “portals” for people to connect and act.







The Gun Debate What Everyone Needs to Know
Philip J. Cook and Kristin A. Goss, Oxford University Press, 2014


No topic is more polarizing than guns and gun control. From a gun culture that took root early in American history to the mass shootings that repeatedly bring the public discussion of gun control to a fever pitch, the topic has preoccupied citizens, public officials, and special interest groups for decades. The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know® delves into the issues that Americans debate when they talk about guns. With a balanced and broad-ranging approach, noted economist Philip J. Cook and political scientist Kristin A. Goss thoroughly cover the latest research, data, and developments on gun ownership, gun violence, the firearms industry, and the regulation of firearms. The authors also tackle sensitive issues such as the effectiveness of gun control, the connection between mental illness and violent crime, the question of whether more guns make us safer, and ways that video games and the media might contribute to gun violence. No discussion of guns in the U.S. would be complete without consideration of the history, culture, and politics that drive the passion behind the debate. Cook and Goss deftly explore the origins of the American gun culture and the makeup of both the gun rights and gun control movements.





Lethal But Legal Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health
Nicholas Freudenberg, Oxford University Press, 2014


Decisions made by the food, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical, gun, and automobile industries have a greater impact on today’s health than the decisions of scientists and policymakers. As the collective influence of corporations has grown, governments around the world have stepped back from their responsibility to protect public health by privatizing key services, weakening regulations, and cutting funding for consumer and environmental protection. Today’s corporations are increasingly free to make decisions that benefit their bottom line at the expense of public health. Lethal but Legal examines how corporations have influenced — and plagued — public health over the last century, first in industrialized countries and now in developing regions. It is both a current history of corporations’ antagonism towards health and an analysis of the emerging movements that are challenging these industries’ dangerous practices. The reforms outlined here aim to strike a healthier balance between large companies’ right to make a profit and governments’ responsibility to protect their populations. While other books have addressed parts of this story, Lethal but Legal is the first to connect the dots between unhealthy products, business-dominated politics, and the growing burdens of disease and health care costs. By identifying the common causes of all these problems, then situating them in the context of other health challenges that societies have overcome in the past, this book provides readers with the insights they need to take practical and effective action to restore consumers’ right to health.




badpharmaBad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients
by Ben Goldacre (New paperback edition, 2014) Macmillan Publishers.


We like to imagine that medicine is based on evidence and the results of fair testing and clinical trials. In reality, those tests and trials are often profoundly flawed. We like to imagine that doctors who write prescriptions for everything from antidepressants to cancer drugs to heart medication are familiar with the research literature about these drugs, when in reality much of the research is hidden from them by drug companies. We like to imagine that doctors are impartially educated, when in reality much of their education is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. We like to imagine that regulators have some code of ethics and let only effective drugs onto the market, when in reality they approve useless drugs, with data on side effects casually withheld from doctors and patients. All these problems have been shielded from public scrutiny because they are too complex to capture in a sound bite. Ben Goldacre shows that the true scale of this murderous disaster fully reveals itself only when the details are untangled. He believes we should all be able to understand precisely how data manipulation works and how research misconduct in the medical industry affects us on a global scale. With Goldacre’s characteristic flair and a forensic attention to detail, Bad Pharma reveals a shockingly broken system in need of regulation. This is the pharmaceutical industry as it has never been seen before.






Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle, University of California Press, Revised and Updated Paperback, 2013


We all witness, in advertising and on supermarket shelves, the fierce competition for our food dollars. In this engrossing exposé, Marion Nestle goes behind the scenes to reveal how the competition really works and how it affects our health. The abundance of food in the United States—enough calories to meet the needs of every man, woman, and child twice over—has a downside. Our overefficient food industry must do everything possible to persuade people to eat more—more food, more often, and in larger portions—no matter what it does to waistlines or well-being. Like manufacturing cigarettes or building weapons, making food is very big business. Food companies in 2000 generated nearly $900 billion in sales. They have stakeholders to please, shareholders to satisfy, and government regulations to deal with. It is nevertheless shocking to learn precisely how food companies lobby officials, co-opt experts, and expand sales by marketing to children, members of minority groups, and people in developing countries. We learn that the food industry plays politics as well as or better than other industries, not least because so much of its activity takes place outside the public view.







For previous Corporations and Health Watch Back to School posts see:
Corporations and Health Watch Goes Back to School: 10 Recent Articles for Fall 2013 Courses
Bringing Corporations and Health into the Public Health Curriculum
Corporations and Health Watch Goes Back to School: 10 Ways to Bring the Health Impact of Business Practices into the Classroom