Countermarketing Unhealthy Food: An Effective Strategy for Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases? Lessons from Tobacco

Image from Youth Food Educators of East Harlem

Countermarketing campaigns use health communications to reduce the demand for unhealthy products by exposing motives and undermining marketing practices of producers. These campaigns can contribute to the prevention of noncommunicable diseases by denormalizing the marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food. By portraying these activities as outside the boundaries of civilized corporate behavior, countermarketing can reduce the demand for unhealthy products and lead to changes in industry marketing practices. Countermarketing blends consumer protection, media advocacy, and health education with the demand for corporate accountability. Countermarketing campaigns have been demonstrated to be an effective component of comprehensive tobacco control. This review describes common elements of tobacco countermarketing such as describing adverse health consequences, appealing to negative emotions, highlighting industry manipulation of consumers, and engaging users in the design or implementation of campaigns. It then assesses the potential for using these elements to reduce consumption of alcohol and unhealthy foods.

Full citation: Palmedo PC, Dorfman L, Garza S, Murphy E, Freudenberg N. Countermarketing Alcohol and Unhealthy Food: An Effective Strategy for Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases? Lessons from Tobacco. Annu Rev Public Health. 2017;38:119-144.

Unhealthful Food-and-Beverage Advertising in Subway Stations: Targeted Marketing, Vulnerable Groups, Dietary Intake, and Poor Health

Unhealthful food-and-beverage advertising often targets vulnerable groups. In this study, investigators systematically assessed all print ads (n = 1586) in all subway stations in the Bronx  (n = 68) in 2012. There were no ads promoting “more-healthful” food-or-beverage items (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, water or milk). There were many ads for “less-healthful” items (e.g., candies, chips, sugary cereals, frozen pizzas, “energy” drinks, coffee confections, hard alcohol, and beer). Ad placement did not relate to the number of riders entering at stations. Instead, exposure to food-or-beverage ads generally, and to “less-healthful” ads particularly (specifically ads in Spanish, directed at youth, and/or featuring minorities), was directly correlated with poverty, lower high-school graduation rates, higher percentages of Hispanics, and/or higher percentages of children in surrounding residential areas. Additional analyses suggested correlations between ad exposures and sugary-drink consumption, fruit-and-vegetable intake, and diabetes, hypertension, and high-cholesterol rates. Subway-station ads for “less-healthful” items were located disproportionately in areas home to vulnerable populations facing diet and diet-related-health challenges. The fact that uneven ad placement did not relate to total rider counts suggests ads were not directed at the largest possible audiences but rather targeted to specific groups.

Full citation: Lucan SC, Maroko AR, Sanon OC, Schechter CB. Unhealthful Food-and-Beverage Advertising in Subway Stations: Targeted Marketing, Vulnerable Groups, Dietary Intake, and Poor Health. J Urban Health. 2017;94(2):220-232.

New York City Is Oversaturated with Licensed Tobacco Retail Outlets

For more than a decade New York City has led a historic and successful effort to reduce smoking, driving down smoking rates to historic lows. Despite these efforts, about 950,000 people still smoke and significant disparities persist by education, household income and mental health.  One reason why tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable disease and death in New York City is the overwhelming number of places where tobacco can be legally purchased in the five boroughs.  In a new report, the American Cancer Society Cancer Actions Network recommends that New York City should:

• Establish a cap on retail tobacco licenses

• Restrict access near youth-service entities

• Restrict retail outlet proximity to each other

• Restrict all tobacco sales in pharmacies

• Add restrictions on other tobacco products

Questions for Trump’s FDA Nominee

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The Food and Drug Administration’s approach to consumer protection faces a potential turning point when a Senate committee takes up President Trump’s nomination of Scott Gottlieb to head the agency, writes POGO, the nonprofit  Project on Government Oversight.  Trump has called for slashing FDA restraints on pharmaceuticals, and with Gottlieb’s appointment he would entrust the task to a doctor and former FDA official who has been immersed in the pharmaceutical industry. One of The FDA’s main missions is making sure that prescription medicines sold to the public are safe and effective. The FDA gets much of its funding through so-called “user fees” paid by pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and the money comes with strings attached, giving industry extraordinary leverage over its federal overseer. In Gottlieb, Trump  has chosen a potential FDA commissioner whose financial disclosures list line after line of payments from drug and biotech companies.

Public Universities Get an Education in Private Industry

At the University of California, Davis, researchers are regularly invited to attend on-campus meet-and-greets with potential corporate funders to discuss possible sponsorship opportunities. Handshakes and business cards are routinely exchanged—so are nondisclosure agreements, writes Molly McCluskey in The Atlantic. Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at U.C. Davis, says such meetings and the attendant nondisclosure agreements are commonplace and that it’s university administrators—rather than the corporations themselves—who encourage their professors and researchers to attend. I spent a year poring over documents and talking to universities, companies, lawyers, and researchers to figure out what kind of role corporate funding plays in public-university studies across the United States. Nearly all of the people I spoke with talked about the increasing ease with which corporate representatives have access to researchers, although some were more comfortable with the arrangement than others.

Inside the Academic Journal That Corporations Love

A recent lawsuit against Monsanto offers a clear and troubling view into industry strategies that warp research for corporate gain, Paul Thacker writes in Pacific Standard, an investigative magazine.  In a lawsuit regarding the possible carcinogenicity of the pesticide Roundup, plaintiffs’ lawyers suing Monsanto charge the company with ghostwriting an academic study finding that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is not harmful. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used weed killer and is critical for successful cultivation of genetically modified crops such as corn and soybean, which are resistant to the pesticide. Ghostwriting remains pervasive in some areas of academic research; in 2010, Thacker helped author a Senate report on the matter. Studies drafted by corporations and then published in scientific journals with academic authors have been used to sway government decisions, court cases, and even medical practice.

Framing the tax and health nexus: a neglected aspect of public health concern

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Previous studies have described various associations between tax policy and health. This article proposes a unifying conceptual framework of ‘Five R’s’ to stimulate awareness about the importance of tax to health improvement. First, tax can improve representation and democratic accountability, and help make governments more responsive to the needs of its citizens. Second, tax can create a revenue stream for a universal pool of public finance for health care and other public services. Third, progressive taxation when combined with appropriate public spending can help redistribute wealth and income and mitigate social and health inequalities. Fourth, the re-pricing of harmful products (e.g. tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food) can help reduce their consumption. Fifth, taxation provides a route by which certain harmful industries can be regulated. The paper also discusses the barriers that hinder the full potential for taxation to be used to improve health, including: weak tax administrations, large ‘shadow economies’, international trade liberalisation, tax avoidance, transfer pricing by transnational corporations and banking secrecy.  The authors suggest that a greater awareness of the manifold associations between tax and health will encourage health practitioners to actively promote fairer and better taxation, thereby helping to improve health and reduce health inequalities.

Citation: Mccoy D, Chigudu S, Tillmann T. Framing the tax and health nexus: a neglected aspect of public health concern. Health Econ Policy Law 2017 Apr;12(2):179-194.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health