The Corporation, the Individual and Public Health

CHW July 29

Since corporations are at the center of  many of the world’s  most serious public health crises, improvements in health require more focus on the harmful practices of global corporations.   In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, a newsletter for those concerned about corporate crime, Corporations and Health Watch’s Nicholas Freudenberg explained the rationale for this approach to public health. In decent societies, Freudenberg said, healthy choices ought to be easy choices. 

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Will the mHealth Business Shrink or Exacerbate Health Inequalities?

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An article in the November American Journal of Public Health analyzes the social networks of the  major stakeholders in mobile health app development and describes their financial relationships to each other and to global corporations in technology, pharmaceuticals and entertainment, prime investors in the rapidly expanding mHealth business.  The authors conclude that public health researchers need to “extend their scrutiny and advocacy beyond the health messages contained within apps to understanding commercial influences on health and, when necessary, challenging them.”  In an accompanying editorial, CHW’s Nicholas Freudenberg notes that in their effort to maintain profitability in a crowded marketplace, corporations selling the 259,000 mHealth apps now on the U.S.  market   may make misleading claims, cover up defects or market unscrupulously, thus harming rather than helping users. Those mHealth apps that are effective and safe risk widening inequalities in health by being more accessible to the users who can afford them.

8 Ways to Move the Food Movement Forward in the Age of Trump

Linking food to other issues and campaigns can amplify the power of food and other movements and increase the chances of winning meaningful victories. Photo: 2017 People’s Climate March. Credit: Mark Dixon.

In the four months since Trump took office, write Nicholas Freudenberg and Mark Bittman in Civil Eats, many of our fears have come true. Spiking deportation activities have scared farmworkers out of the fields and broken up families across the country. The threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act are closer to reality, putting farmers, rural communities, and tens of millions of others at risk of losing their health care. An executive order that claims to promote rural prosperity instead focuses on repealing ag regulations that protect farmworkers, farm communities, and food safety. And, across the board, Trump’s proposed budget would decimate funding to help make healthy, affordable food more available to everyone, especially those already at highest risk of food insecurity and diet-related diseases.

The only silver lining has been the loud, sustained resistance to these devastating policies. Even as this administration works to turn back the progress the food justice movement has made in the past 20 years, many are standing strong and pushing back.

How the NAFTA Diet Made Mexico Sick


During the campaign, President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw from NAFTA, calling it “a disaster since the day it was devised,” write Alyshia Galvez and Nicholas Freudenberg in an op ed in the Dallas Morning News. But last week, he said he will “bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation.”  However, neither Trump nor those on either side of the trade wars has given any hint that they know about one of NAFTA’s most distressing consequences: its adverse impact on the health of the Mexican people.  For those who believe that fair trade agreements can benefit all, the goal should be a renegotiated NAFTA that puts the well-being of all North Americans first. A trade agreement that favors sustainable agriculture, labor mobility and a food system oriented toward health — not corporate profits — would be good for us all.

Big Tobacco: Role Model or Pariah for the Pharmaceutical Industry?

By Nicholas Freudenberg for the Symposium of the Geneesmiddelenbulletin on June 30th 2016 in Leiden ’Science and Economy’. It was also translated and published in the Bulletin.

In the last two decades, the public health community has generally agreed that the tobacco industry has no role in setting health policy or sponsoring research on tobacco. The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control bans industry participation in policy deliberations on Tobacco, most major global public health organizations and national health departments have sharply limited their interactions with representatives of the tobacco industry, and many universities and some journals no longer accept or publish research supported by the tobacco industry.

However, no such agreement has been reached on the appropriate role for corporations and trade associations in other sectors such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, and alcohol. Some health and business analysts emphasize that the different roles that the products of the tobacco, medicines, food and alcohol industries play in patterns of health and disease make any judgments inappropriate and misguided, especially in the case of the drug industry. “Such comparisons (between the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries) are not just absurd, they are irresponsible as they contribute to patients not taking prescribed medicines that can clearly benefit them”, wrote one former drug industry executive.  Read more

Countermarketing Unhealthy Food: Lessons from Tobacco

Thirty years of research in tobacco control has shown that countermarketing has been effective in reducing tobacco use, especially among teenagers and young adults. This policy brief by investigators at the City University of New York Urban Food Policy Institute  describes some of the key elements of effective tobacco countermarketing campaigns, and examines the relevance of these evidence-based countermarketing practices to unhealthy food and beverages, defined as processed products high in unhealthy fats, sugar, salt and empty calories

Automobile, construction and entertainment business sector influences on sedentary lifestyles


Sedentary lifestyles contribute to premature death and health inequalities. Researchers have studied personal and community-level determinants of inactivity but few have analyzed corporate influences. To reframe the public health debate on inactivity and open new doors for public sector intervention, we conducted a scoping review of evidence from several disciplines to describe how the business and political practices of the automobile, construction, and entertainment sectors have encouraged sedentary lifestyles.

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Changing Corporate Practices to Reduce Non-Communicable Diseases and Injuries: A Promising Strategy for Improving Global Public Health?

In presentations on “Changing Corporate Practices to Reduce Non-Communicable Diseases and Injuries: A Promising Strategy for Improving Global Public Health?” at Edinburgh University and University of Glasgow, Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at City University of New York School of Public Health, described the role of corporate business and political practices on the growing global burden of non-communicable diseases and injuries. He also analyzed what roles public health professionals can play in countering the adverse health effects of these practices. View the presentation.

Reducing the Role of the Food, Tobacco, and Alcohol Industries in Noncommunicable Disease Risk in South Africa

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) impose a growing burden on the health, economy, and development of South Africa. According to the World Health Organization, four risk factors, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity, account for a significant proportion of major NCDs. We analyze the role of tobacco, alcohol, and food corporations in promoting NCD risk and unhealthy lifestyles in South Africa and in exacerbating inequities in NCD distribution among populations. Through their business practices such as product design, marketing, retail distribution, and pricing and their business practices such as lobbying, public relations, philanthropy, and sponsored research, national and transnational corporations in South Africa shape the social and physical environments that structure opportunities for NCD risk behavior.

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From new Lethal but Legal Afterword: The World That Is Possible

This week Oxford University Press releases a new paperback edition of Lethal but Legal Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health with a new Afterword by the author. An excerpt is below.

Nicholas Freudenberg

New York City, October 2034.

I wrote Lethal but Legal more than 20 years ago because I was worried about humanity’s survival. Growing epidemics of chronic diseases and injuries, escalating environmental damage, increasing concentration of corporate power and wealth, and declining democracy and government protection of health were converging towards a dangerous tipping point. After the book’s release, I had many conversations about these fears with readers, researchers, activists, health professionals and students. What struck me most was that although most agreed that the rise of the corporate consumption complex and its relentless marketing of hyperconsumption threatened public health and democracy, even those persuaded by the book’s arguments were pessimistic that another future was possible. Corporations were too powerful, they said, opposition too weak. Acquiescence was more popular than resistance and any possibility of a real alternative seemed hopelessly naïve.

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