Corporate influence on health exposed

The average family medical cost this year will exceed $12,200 — up from $8,000 just four years ago — according to the Milliman Medical Index, a corporate consulting firm. To a large extent this reflects the billions of dollars of profits for the medical-industrial complex, but also the production and sale of unhealthy food by the beverage and tobacco industries.

The devastating reality of profits in health care is not being lost on people. There is a growing outrage against drug and insurance companies as well as medical supply and equipment companies, and banks, which finance beleaguered hospitals. The fast food industry is also under attack.

However, corporate profiteers, who often fly below the radar, counter this growing public awareness every day. They throw their money around to keep key organizations and professionals quiet.

The June issue of Health Education & Behavior cites corporate practices as influencing health education, practice and research. Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg of New York City’s Hunter College writes in the issue: “Corporate practices, such as advertising, public relations, lobbying litigation, and sponsoring scientific research has a significant impact on the health of the people of the United States.”

The article describes how corporate policies influence health and it reviews recent “public health campaigns aimed at changing corporate behavior” in six industries — the alcohol, automobile, food, gun, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.

An article by Dr. Marshall Kreuter from George State University states, “It is clear that some corporations and businesses promote and sell products and pursue other policies that can have deleterious effects on the public’s health.”

Kreuter urges planners and practitioners who “seek to redress the actions and policies that lead to corporate disease promotion to consider expanding their working knowledge of (a) the core values that drive corporate culture and (b) how those values are often framed to distort and override the social justice values of public health.”

Kreuter argues that simply knowing the problems is not enough. He urges the “strategic use of community organizing for power, to heighten public demand for greater corporate social accountability for the health consequences of their actions.”

A third article in the issue, by Dr. Lori Dorfman of the Public Policy Institute, et al., urges public health professionals to challenge corporate ideologues in the media. The authors stress the necessity of developing the skills to compete effectively in public debate.

A May 16 article by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, at CommonDreams.org, documents the sugar industry’s penetration of the American Diabetes Association. Cadbury Schweppes “kicks in a couple of million dollars to the ADA” and, in return, the candy and soft drink company “gets to use the ADA label on its diet drinks.”

The authors cite a recent article by the Journal of Pediatrics placing a big part of the blame for childhood obesity on soda and other sugared drinks. The ADA should be a public watchdog against this kind of behavior, but it isn’t.

These exposes should be brought before state and city legislative bodies and Congress to seek to try to stop their activities. This would give more public exposure to these corporate scofflaws and it would motivate more grassroots action. This, in turn, might motivate politicians to take action.