‘Nothing can be done until everything is done': the use of complexity arguments by food, beverage, alcohol and gambling industries

Corporations use a range of strategies to dispute their role in causing public health harms and to limit the scope of effective public health interventions.  This study analyzed alcohol, food, soda and gambling industry documents and websites and minutes of reports of relevant health select committees, using standard document analysis methods.  Two main framings were identified: (i) these industries argue that aetiology is complex, so individual products cannot be blamed; and (ii) they argue that population health measures are ‘too simple’ to address complex public health problems. However, in this second framing, there are inherent contradictions in how industry used ‘complexity’, as their alternative solutions are generally not, in themselves, complex.  Corporate arguments and language may reflect the existence of a cross-industry ‘playbook’, whose use results in the undermining of effective public health policies – in particular the undermining of effective regulation of profitable industry activities that are harmful to the public’s health.

Petticrew M, Katikireddi SV, Knai C, Cassidy R, Maani Hessari N, Thomas J, Weishaar H. ‘Nothing can be done until everything is done': the use of complexity arguments by food, beverage, alcohol and gambling industries. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(11):1078-1083.

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