Systems Thinking as a Framework for Analyzing Commercial Determinants of Health

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The high burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is politically salient and eminently preventable. However, effective solutions largely continue to elude the public health community. Two pressing issues heighten this challenge: the first is the public health community’s narrow approach to addressing NCDs, and the second is the involvement of corporate actors in policymaking. While NCDs are often conceptualized in terms of individual-level risk factors, the authors argue that they should be reframed as products of a complex system. This article explores the value of a systems approach to understanding NCDs as an emergent property of a complex system, with a focus on commercial actors.  Drawing on Donella Meadows’s systems thinking framework, this article examines how a systems perspective may be used to analyze the commercial determinants of NCDs and, specifically, how unhealthy commodity industries influence public health policy. The authors find that unhealthy commodity industries actively design and shape the NCD policy system, intervene at different levels of the system to gain agency over policy and politics, and legitimize their presence in public health policy decisions.

Citation: Knai C, Petticrew M, Mays N, Capewell S, Cassidy R, Cummins S, Eastmure E, Fafard P, Hawkins B, Jensen JD, Katikireddi SV. Systems Thinking as a Framework for Analyzing Commercial Determinants of Health.The Milbank Quarterly. 2018;96(3):472-98.

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