How companies harm our health for profit

Although the influence of companies on our consumption patterns has been known for decades, the public health interest in companies’ business strategies and their impact on health is a recent development.

He gets up early to go to work. Some people are having breakfast on the terrace in front of the bus stop. Before boarding the bus, check local napkin rings for the names of sugary drinks. In front of his job some people are holding a canvas with an advertisement for a car we’re sure will drive sustainable,

The day ends and at the supermarket he sees a girl asking for some cereal as a character from an animated series appears in the box. When he returns home, while he is cooking dinner, the protagonist of the last film seen in the cinema is seen on the television enjoying a beer. He finishes dinner and turns off the TV to go to sleep.

This routine is certainly no different for many. We receive constant stimuli throughout the day that remind us of the names of brands and products. They can be of all kinds: sugary drinks, ultra-processed foods, fast food, cars, and alcohol. Later, when we decide to acquire one, our decision will be determined by the one that holds a special place in our memory, either by pure repetition or by being attached to some relevant emotion for us.

This is the premise of advertising: that certain products and brands, or even the act of consuming itself, are more likely to be acquired.

And this has implications for our individual and collective health.

commercial determinants of health

While the influence of corporations on our consumption patterns has been known for decades, public health interest in corporate business strategies and their impact on health is a recent one.

The first article to incorporate this concept was written in 2012 by Ilona Kikbush, who would later write a commentary for the magazine. Lancet Global Health In which it will detail its framework of “Commercial Determinants of Health”, which is summarized in the following figure.

Mobility that constitutes commercial determinants of health. The acronym CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. Kickbush et al., author provided

The authors define commercial determinants of health as “the strategies and approaches that are undertaken by the private sector to promote products and decisions that are harmful to health”.

They point to three interrelated factors that have modified the landscape of consumption and trade globally and increased the power of the companies involved:

  1. Increased demand for products.

  2. Expanding access to markets, for example in low- and middle-income countries in recent decades.

  3. Continued internationalization of trade and investment.

In recent years, there has been an increase in scientific evidence on occupational determinants of health, as the latest special issue of the journal suggests. the Lancet Dedicated to this topic and published this year.

Business ‘lobbies’ against our health

Living in a market society, the main objective of any company is to achieve and maximize its profits. In a context of extreme competition, companies are under constant pressure to maintain and increase their market share in comparison to their competitors.

This encourages the use of practices aimed at maintaining and increasing demand, which ultimately allows them to maintain business profits.

Thus, the health consequences of consuming these products are influenced by the effects of these corporations on the social environment in which we live through the availability of their products, their cultural desirability, and their price.

One of the most common ways companies affect our environment is lobbyThat is, trying to exert pressure at the legislative level to obstruct the approval of laws that may reduce their benefits or favor legislation favorable to their interests.

For example, it is estimated that Chinese beverage companies invested more than $100 million in lobbying in the United States between 2009 and 2015.

Although this is the form that is most widely known and condemned socially, the influence exercised by these companies can be through other channels:

  • Marketing With the aim of increasing the desire and acceptance of unhealthy goods by the population.

  • Corporate social responsibility strategies to deflect attention from reportable practices and to mend damaged reputations. An example of this would be the increasingly famous and persecuted Washing,

  • Expansion of supply chains to increase the power of influence of these companies across the globe. By expanding their market share, the largest multinational companies have a greater global voice than regional small and medium-sized companies.

Perfect Example: Tobacco Companies

If there was an instruction manual on business strategies to increase consumption of products with health implications, it would undoubtedly be written by the tobacco companies.

During the 20th century, especially during the second half, these companies devised a series of strategies to maintain sales in countries where the scientific community began to question their products. as well as with the aim of expanding its presence in newly created markets in low-income countries.

Historically, tobacco companies have used advertising to normalize the appearance of their products and encourage new smokers, especially young people, to join. To do this, tobacco companies wanted the youth population to associate their products with adult life, fun, and achieving a certain social status. An example of this has been seen in the series Mad ManCenters on an advertising company in the 1960s.

They also created advertising campaigns aimed at women that linked smoking with empowerment and independence. In the case of the black population of the United States, he associated smoking with elements of urban culture.

Currently, strategies aimed at attracting youth smokers are focused on the development of flavored cigarettes or on conveying the idea that electronic cigarettes are healthier and to attract young people by appealing to a more modern and aesthetic aesthetic. using his design. In contrast to traditional cigarettes, the aesthetic level has also become old for the new generation.

Efforts by tobacco companies to maintain their market share have also focused on delaying or avoiding the implementation of regulations contrary to their interests. To do so, industry has resorted to a variety of tactics aimed at exerting pressure on political power: funding electoral campaigns, forming anti-regulation groups made up of people apparently with no ties to the industry, threatening possible job losses. Threatening and seeking approval Legislative measures of self-regulatory nature have been tailored to the industry and aligned with its interests.

Another common strategy is to make regulation of any kind contrary to individual liberty, while continuing to limit people’s ability to live healthy lives.

These types of strategies, among others, have been designed and improved over the decades by the tobacco industry. Today they are emulated by other industries whose products have harmful effects on the health of the population.

Knowing the commercial determinants of health and the strategies developed by these industries is essential to public health, as they indicate what types of public policies can best counteract corporate interest in worsening people’s health.

Pedro Gulón Tosio, assistant professor doctor in public health, University of Alcala and Mario Fontan Vela, doctoral student in epidemiology and public health, University of Alcala,

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