People’s Health Movement: A Call to Action on Nutrition, Food Security and Food Sovereignty

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In a commentary, in World Nutrition,  David Sanders, Claudio Schuftan, and Vandana Prasad write, “There are common roots underlying both under and ‘over-nutrition’ in our globalized world. These pertain to the impact on food systems of current practices related to food production, processing, manufacture, distribution, trade and commerce, as well as to the power differentials between those who are most affected by and those who benefit most from the current food system.

The unregulated penetration of food and beverage companies and the aggressive marketing of processed and ultra-processed foods have been severely compounding the problem of malnutrition and the underlying food insecurity.  This process is driven by mega agribusiness conglomerates and transnational food and beverage corporations through the employment of technologies and practices that are energy intensive and ecologically unsustainable, and that are also implicated in environmental degradation and climate change… In sum, malnutrition in all its forms, food insecurity and the erosion of food sovereignty are all socially and politically determined.  It is inadequate to acknowledge the continuing crisis of malnutrition and the inequalities it engenders without addressing their political roots and the conditions that perpetuate this.”

Back to School on Corporations and Health Part 5

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As students and faculty return to school this fall, Corporations and Health Watch continues its series on strategies for integrating the study of corporations and health into public health, social science, business and other educational programs.  This post briefly describes several courses that have been taught in the last few years and provides links to class syllabi.  Instructors who want ideas for readings and topics can consult these course outlines, which present a variety of ideological perspectives.  Links are also provided to previous CHW posts on teaching about corporations and health.

Poisoned Worlds: Corporate Behavior and Public Health  Columbia University

This course traces the historical importance of occupational and environmental diseases related to tobacco and food industries and chemical manufacturers. It outlines the histories of traditional occupational hazards like asbestosis and mesothelioma, lead poisoning and other pollutants. Through the use of documents gathered in lawsuits, searches of medical and public health literature and other documentary sources students evaluate historical debates about responsibility for chronic diseases and environmental damage. The scope of the course will include topics ranging broadly from global warming to obesity and low-level lead poisoning, and PCBs. It will focus on the five decades since Silent Spring and the rise of environmental movement. Central to the course will be investigating the uses of history in adjudicating responsibility for chronic conditions and environmental damage affecting men, women, children, workers and communities of color. It will look at the ways history is used in the court and explore how historical information can be used to advocate for populations.

Health Activism  Wellesley College

The diseases, illnesses, and concerns that come under the purview of the health care, public health and global health systems stem from the interplay among scientific understandings, political and economic forces, and the actions of individuals and groups. In this course, we will examine various kinds of what can be labeled “health activism” over the last two centuries. Themes to be addressed will include: activism both in and against health institutions, roles of race/class/gender/disability/ sexuality in health issues, activism in a global health context, reforms, reactions and radicalism.

Pharmaceutical Geographies, Pharmaceutical Economies  University of Minnesota

This seminar examines the emergence and persistence of global disparities in

pharmaceuticals by providing historical, political, economic, and cultural analyses of the

manufacturing, regulation, and distribution of pharmaceuticals. It covers historical and

contemporary issues that underscore the paradoxical nature of the global pharmaceutical



Corporate Sustainability Strategy  Harvard University Extension School

This course explores sustainability from the perspective of a multi-national corporation. It

provides a number of exemplars in various industries to show how they have applied

sustainability tools to their businesses. These will be publicly traded companies, and so there will

be links provided to various forms of information for you to compare and contrast as we move

through the semester. Information will be presented from academic research, white papers

published by respected scholars and experts, and the actual disclosures of major multi-national

companies. Sustainability officers and other sustainability professionals will serve as guest

speakers in the class throughout the semester.


Global Food Politics and Policy Harvard School of Education

This course reviews the political landscape of both food and farming, in both rich

and poor countries. This is a highly contested political space. Scientists, economists,

commercial farmers, agribusiness and food companies, environmentalists, consumer

organizations, and social justice advocates often hold sharply different views. Policy

actions by national governments frequently conflict with the preferences of international

organizations, private companies, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and humanitarian relief

agencies. Understanding the foundation of these conflicts is key to effective public

policy making.


Consumers, Corporations and Public Health Harvard Business School

With 18 percent of U.S. GDP now allocated to health care, it is essential for all business people to have some familiarity with the health care system. This half-credit course examines how

corporations assist and, in some cases, impede the solving of public health challenges. Targeting

MPH and MBA students, the course aims to promote dialogue and understanding between public

health and business professionals. Common ground can be found when we use a deep

understanding of consumer behavior as the starting point for debate and collaboration.


Previous CHW posts on teaching about corporations





Public Health and Corporate Avoidance of U.S. Federal Income Tax



The amount of U.S. federal revenue affects the government’s ability to provide public health services, programs, infrastructure, and research to adequately protect the public’s health. Public health funding shortages are chronic. Corporate income tax avoidance is one source of unrealized federal tax revenue that, if collected and allocated to public health, could help offset those shortages. Major corporate methods of tax avoidance, their effect on federal revenue, and recommended policy changes are described. Corporate tax avoidance and government revenue shortages are framed as social determinants of health, and research questions and data sources for public health researchers for examining the issue are suggested. Although there is no guarantee that any additional corporateincome tax revenue would be directed to public health, the subject warrants the attention of public health researchers and policy advocates. The United States serves as a case study for public professionals in other countries to conduct similar analyses.

Citation:  Wiist, WH. Public Health and Corporate Avoidance of U.S. Federal Income Tax . World Medical & Health Policy. First published: 20 August 2018.

Grading PespiCo’s Retiring CEO Indra Nooyi on Public Health




When PepsiCo. Inc.’s longtime chief executive, Indra Nooyi, announced that she was stepping down, reports The Wall Street Journal, Ivanka Trump was one of many people to voice her admiration for the departing CEO. “Indra, you are a mentor + inspiration to so many, myself included,” Ms. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Nooyi is finishing her tenure with a sterling reputation as a manager. She is credited with piloting PepsiCo through a rough period for the industry, as consumer tastes moved away from sugary drinks. She successfully fought off an activist investor’s attempt to break up the company and diversified into healthier snack and drink options before many competitors did. PepsiCo’s annual revenue increased 81% during her tenure to $63.5 billion last year.

Still, from a market perspective, her tenure wasn’t a complete success. PepsiCo’s total shareholder return during her time as CEO trailed both the S&P 500 index and rival Coca-Cola Co. PepsiCo’s market capitalization was $165 billion based on last Friday’s closing price, compared with $200 billion for Coca-Cola. When Ms. Nooyi took over, PepsiCo’s market cap of $106 billion was slightly larger than Coca-Cola’s, at $104 billion.

If Wall Street gives Nooyi, mixed grades, what about public health?  Nooyi is known for her desire to expand PepsiCo’sinvolvement in “good-for-you” foods.  What were the results?



Percent increase

Total PepsiCo revenues

$35 billion

$63.5 billion


Revenues from “healthier” foods

$13.3 billion

$31.8 billion


Revenues from “less healthy” foods

$21.7 billion

$31.7 billion


The table above shows that while the proportion of revenues from “healthier” product increased more than for less healthy products like soda and high salt, high fat snacks, the total annual sales of less healthy products (dubbed by Nooyi as the “fun for you” foods) increased by $10 billion – 46% during  her tenure.  

In other words, the total revenues from PepsiCo  products most associated with diet-related chronic diseases increased significantly  under Nooyi’s leadership. This suggests that PepsiCo’s contribution to the burden of premature deaths and preventable illnesses associated with these products also increased.  This illustrates a classic dilemma for public health.  Even if public health advocates succeed in persuading corporations to alter the mix of products they produce, if the company expands at the same time, its overall health damaging impact may increase even as it produces some healthier products.  Moreover, the products PepsiCo and Nooyi label as “good for you” or healthy are often still high in unhealthy ingredients, even if they are fortified with vitamins or other nutrients.  

E-cigarette maker Juul targeted teens with false claims of safety, lawsuit says

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A Juul in the hand…(credit)

When a San Diego-based mother posted an emergency alert on Nextdoor, a community discussion app, she hoped a Good Samaritan could help, according to court filings, reports The Washington Post.  Her son was hysterical after losing a flash drive with his homework near the local McDonald’s, she wrote, uploading a photo along with the message. A neighbor quickly replied, explaining that the chewing-gum-sized object in the picture was not a flash drive: It was a Juul vaping device. “That’s just an indication of how quickly Juuls became prevalent,” recounted Esfand Nafisi, a lawyer who is handling two of three lawsuits initiated against Juul Labs last month. “You blinked your eye, and suddenly they were all over the place.”

“I think Juul has been insincere from the very beginning in saying it’s only for adult smokers,” said Robert Jackler, principal investigator at a Stanford University School of Medicine program that studies the impact of tobacco advertising. He noted that Juul Labs executives have boasted that they run “the most educated company, the most diligent, the most well-researched.”

Two recent court cases challenge Juul’s practices.

Read the complaintfiled against Juul in United States District Court Southern District of New York in June 2018.

Read the complaintfiled in United States District Court District of Northern California in April 2018.

Four Recent Books on the Political Economy of Global Health

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Four recent books dealing with the political economy of global health are reviewed in a recent issue of Critical Public Health.  Drawing on the material covered in these sources, the reviewer argues that the concepts of capitalism, imperialism and class (at the national and global levels) are fundamental to a critical public health in the present era of economic globalization.

Analysis of corporate political activity strategies of the food industry: evidence from France

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A new study in  Public Health Nutrition  analyzed the corporate political activity (CPA) of major food industry actors in France. The  analysis shows that the main practices used by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were the framing of diet and public health issues in ways favorable to the company, and their involvement in the community. The French National Association of Agribusiness Industries primarily used the ‘information and messaging’ strategy (e.g. by promoting deregulation and shaping the evidence base on diet- and public health-related issues), as well as the ‘policy substitution’ strategy. Nestlé framed diet and public health issues and shaped the evidence based on diet- and public health-related issues. Carrefour particularly sought involvement in the community. The authors found that, in 2015, the food industry in France was using CPA practices that were also used by other industries in the past, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries. Because most, if not all, of these practices proved detrimental to public health when used by the tobacco industry, we propose that the precautionary principle should guide decisions when engaging or interacting with the food industry.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health