U.S. not doing a good job of preventing companies from worsening public health, experts say

WWASHINGTON – Research into the social determinants of health has become “popular” in the United States.

Columbia University and Emory University have programs dedicated to this field. Papers on the topic have received thousands of citations. The federal health department even has a full plan to address the topic, which is broadly defined as the way a person’s environment affects their health.

Business Determinants of Health, on the other hand, looks at the ways in which businesses affect public health. As one researcher put it bluntly, the field is all about “when companies profit from making us sick”.


Only one university in the United States has a dedicated program. On the one hand, you can literally count the number of US specialists. Business determinants of health are not mentioned on the federal health department’s website, according to Google.

It’s a shame, because experts in the field agree: America has done a terrible job of tackling this problem.


STAT asked 10 global experts to rate the U.S. approach to responding to all the ways businesses are causing illness and death in the country. No one gave the U.S. higher than a C+, and several gave the U.S. an F.

The list of criminals is numerous. The first is the industry itself that directly (and relatively obviously) benefits from poor health: the food manufacturers behind ultra-processed foods. Tobacco Company. wine industry. Of course, some lawmakers and regulators failed to keep them in check, and the lobbying industry helped maintain the status quo.

Alex Hogan/Stats

Some have also attacked the energy sector, arguing that the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and its role in climate change has and will continue to make people globally sicker.

One of the US experts, Nick Freudenberg of the City University of New York, even looked at the financial industry.

“Their need for regular quarterly profits and their preference for high-speed liquidity has led many other industries (food, fossil fuels, housing, etc.) to sacrifice long-term investments or balance public and private needs while sticking to short-term profits.”

The relationship between the U.S. and the business determinants of health is even more interesting—and worth studying—because overall, the country, Have Stand up and plan to try to solve these problems. They’re just not great, experts told STAT.

Freudenberg gave the U.S. a C, he said, for trying to “regulate the financial, environmental, occupational and consumer behavior of many businesses.” But the same commercial interests have become “the dominant voice in shaping these regulatory policies.”

May Van Schalkwyk, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, gave the US an overall rating of F for its general failure to regulate numerous industries.

But she also noted that “some past efforts in tobacco control and ongoing efforts to study ‘commercial health determinants’ or to litigate harmful industry practices are clear A grades.”

STAT also asked experts to recommend a single policy proposal, which could be a first step toward controlling health hazards posed by businesses. Their responses included higher taxes on unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages, increased restrictions on corporate lobbying and “revolving doors,” and increased antitrust enforcement.

But two of the four U.S. experts have an easier answer: Do more research on this area of ​​the U.S.

“The first step is to admit [commercial determinants of health] as a field and make it a priority to invest in research and programs,” said Nino Paichadze, associate director of the George Washington University Center for the Determinants of Business in Health.

STAT’s coverage of the business determinants of health was obtained from Bloomberg Philanthropies. our financial backer Do not participate in any decisions about our journalism.

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