15 Jul

The Commercial Determinants of Health

Posted By Politybooks

As I write this blog post two major sporting events have just taken place in different parts of the world – the World Cup hosted by Brazil and the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament held in London, England.  Such events can raise public interest in sport and physical activity and increase participation in both, particularly for children and young people.  Health-wise the benefits of this for public health are self-evident.  However, such tournaments are heavily sponsored.  Anyone who watched one of the World Cup matches wouldn’t have been able to fail to spot the major sponsors’ efforts to advertise their wares. Among these sponsors are the food and drink giants McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Budweiser.  The irony of such companies sponsoring a sporting event is inescapable.  The adverse health effects of fast food, carbonated drinks and alcohol are now well-established.

A focus on the social determinants of health is one of the central themes in our book Health Studies: A Contemporary Introduction.  We use Dahlgren and Whitehead’s rainbow model to consider these in detail (see Introduction section).  The social determinants of health are well rehearsed within the text and we give attention to a number of different determinants which are social in nature (see Part III – Influences upon Health).  We also consider behavioural and environmental determinants of health (see specifically chapters 8 and 10).  More recently attention has turned to what are termed the ‘commercial determinants of health’.  In 2012 Kickbusch argued that ‘if we were to rewrite the Ottawa Charter 25 years later I would focus on the five key determinants of health that our societies need to address: The political, the commercial, the social, the environmental and the behavioural determinants of health’ (Kickbusch, 2012: 427).  She points out the connections between each specifically highlighting the link between political and commercial determinants of health. Kickbusch goes onto observe that, despite Brazil passing a law in 2003 to ban the sale of alcohol at sporting events, FIFA demanded that beer was available at this year’s World Cup.

The commercial determinants of health have been defined as‘factors that influence health which stem from the profit motive’ (West and Marteau, 2013).  Alcohol and tobacco companies,for example, profit hugely and hold (and exercise) an enormous amount of power in shaping public patterns of consumption which, in turn, has an impact on health.  See Hastings (2012) for a more detailed account of corporate power and its influence on health and health choices.  Much has been done to regulate the tobacco industry and to change the face of advertising for smoking products.  It is argued that attention now needs to be paid to the food industry particularly in regulating marketing that is geared towards children as eating habits and food preferences are shaped early in life (Hastings, 2012).   

Another world-famous sporting event has just taken place right here in Leeds, West Yorkshire: the Tour de France.  There was great excitement in the city and wider region as this prestigious event came to town.  A few days ago the Yorkshire Evening Post stated that ‘among the free … giveaways will be 60,000 packets of sweets from HARIBO UK, based in Pontefract’.  This is a great way to promote a locally manufactured product on an international stage, however this brings us back to the point about irony made in the first paragraph.

Hastings, G. (2012) Why Corporate Power is a Public Health Priority. British Medical Journal, 345, DOI: http://dx.doi/org/10.1136/bmj.e5124

Kickbusch, I. (2012) Addressing The Interface of the Political and Commercial Determinants of Health. Health Promotion International, 27 (4), 427-428.

West, R. and Marteau, T. (2013) Commentary on Casswell (2013) The Commercial Determinants of Health. Addiction, 108 (4), 686-687.