Reframing Our Understanding: The Dominant Influence of Corporations in Shaping Health

In our pursuit of good health, we often adhere to a regimen of exercise, nutritious eating, and hygiene practices. It’s a narrative we tell ourselves—that by taking these steps, we’re in control of our well-being. However, the reality is far more complex. Numerous external factors, particularly products manufactured and distributed by corporations, exert significant influence over our health outcomes.

Consider the pervasive presence of “forever chemicals” like PFAS, which pose severe health risks such as kidney and testicular cancers. These chemicals have infiltrated our bodies over decades of exposure, underscoring the insidious impact of products we encounter routinely. But PFAS is just one example; exposure to tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed foods, and fossil fuels is linked to staggering global mortality rates. Alarmingly, these products are implicated in one out of every three deaths worldwide, contributing to 19 out of 56 million deaths annually as of 2019.

Moreover, pollution, largely driven by fossil fuels, emerges as the leading environmental cause of premature death, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. The culpability lies with corporations that produce, market, and sell these harmful products, prioritizing profits over public health. Even when aware of the risks, these corporations often conceal them, employing deceptive tactics to maintain profitability at the expense of consumer well-being.

Corporate malfeasance is evident across various industries, from asbestos and fossil fuels to pesticides and tobacco. Tactics employed to obfuscate harm, delay regulation, and safeguard profits are alarmingly similar and perpetuated across sectors. For instance, the convergence of tobacco and food industries in the 1980s saw the proliferation of hyperpalatable foods engineered to trigger addictive consumption patterns.

Similarly, the widespread use of “forever chemicals” traces back to corporations like 3M and DuPont, which suppressed unfavorable research and misled the public about product safety. Despite internal knowledge of the risks posed by chemicals like PFOA and PFOS, these companies withheld critical information, leading to widespread human and environmental harm.

Decades later, countries grapple with the consequences of corporate negligence, facing costly cleanup efforts and ongoing health repercussions. Although efforts to phase out certain chemicals are underway, the legacy of “forever chemicals” persists, highlighting the enduring challenges posed by corporate-driven health risks. It’s a sobering reminder of the formidable influence wielded by corporations in shaping global health outcomes and the urgent need for regulatory reform and corporate accountability.

Here are three ways to prevent this happening again:

  • Require corporations to adhere to the same standards of data sharing and open science as independent scientists.
  • Mandate that corporations publicly register and release every study they plan to conduct on product harms.
  • Sever financial links between industry and researchers or policymakers.
    • Boost public health research through government funding or alternative financing like a tax on corporate marketing.
    • Cap corporate political donations and increase transparency in lobbying.
    • Prevent the revolving door where government employees work for industries they previously regulated.
  • Mandate public transparency of corporate funding to researchers and policymakers.
    • Establish detailed, permanent, and easily searchable registries for corporate funding.
  • Acknowledge that these steps are challenging but necessary to prevent corporations from selling dangerous products for extended periods.
  • Emphasize the importance of prioritizing public health over corporate profits.

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