Films on Corporate Practices and Health

Feature Films

 Too Big to Fail (2011). This feature film maps the 2008 financial crisis with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as protagonist.

Fast Food Nation (2006). This fictionalized version of the book by the same title looks at the impact of fast food and corporate control over food production on health, society and the environment.

The Constant Gardener (2005) Based on the John Le Carre novel by the same title, The Constant Gardener explores how pharmaceutical companies knowingly test dangerous AIDs drugs on populations of developing countries.

Side Effects (2005). A film about a young pharmaceutical rep who is torn between earning a good living and living a good life.

Thank You for Smoking (2005). A satirical look at the practices of the tobacco, alcohol and gun industries and their impact on health.

The Runaway Jury (2003). Based on a John Grisham thriller about the tobacco industry’s efforts to manipulate juries, the film switches to the gun industry’s role in avoiding liability damages.

A Civil Action (1998). A slick lawyer takes on two giant chemical companies for their pollution of a town’s water.

Class Action (1991). Courtroom drama in which father and daughter represent opposite sides in a suit against a negligent auto company.



Fed Up (2014). An examination of how the food industry contributes to America’s obesity epidemic

Food Chains (2014). A look at food workers in America and the challenges they face at the hand of corporations- in this case, supermarkets.

Inside Job (2011). Feature-length documentary about the 2008 financial crisis

Corporate Fascism: The Destruction of America’s Middle Class (2010). How do corporates impact our political system?

Food Inc. (2008). An eye-opening look at how corporations control the food industry

Forks Over Knives (2008). Investigates how the major diseases of our time- chronic diseases related to lifestyle, can be combatted by a diet that rejects processed and animal-based foods.

Poultrygeist (2007) “Poultrygeist” is a satirical look at the fast food industry, examining what happens when “American Chicken Bunker,” a military-themed fried-chicken chain, builds a restaurant on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground. The film was written by a fast-food employee, produced with the support of PETA, and shot almost entirely through volunteer effort.

Bad Seed: the Truth about our Food (2006). An examination of the hidden costs of genetic engineering of food told through the perspectives of farmers, victims of genetically-engineered products, leading scientists, food safety advocates and more.

Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs. This documentary examines how pharmaceutical companies profit through the creation, definition, and redefintion of disease, direct marketing of pharmaceutical products to consumers, and the increasing medicalization of mental and physical health.

The Future of Food (2004) Looking at the effects of genetic engineering in Mexico, the United States and Canada, this film explores the health impact of genetically engineered food and the dangers of increased corporate control over the food system.

Supersize me (2004) Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock examines the impact of fast food consumption by eating nothing but McDonalds food for 30 days and by looking at the impact of the fast food industry on health and society.

The Corporation (2003) Using case studies, this documentary examines corporations through a psychological lens, argues that corporations fit the criteria for psychopathy, and highlights the dangers that corporate practices can have on the environment and society.

Deadly Deception (1991). This academy-award winning documentary bringing to light the side effects caused by the General Electric Company’s production of nuclear materials.


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Selected references on automobile industry practices and health

This month CHW continues its series on selected references from the peer-reviewed scientific literature with a listing of 47 references on the health impact of automobile industry practices.

Corporations and Health Watch is conducting a search for articles that assess the impact of corporate practices on health for various industries. This list includes selected publications from the peer-reviewed literature that describe and analyze the marketing, product design, retail and pricing practices of the automobile industry.

Arbesman M, Pellerito JM Jr. Evidence-based perspective on the effect of automobile-related modifications on the driving ability, performance, and safety of older adults. Am J Occup Ther. 2008;62(2):173-86.

Arbogast KB, Durbin DR, Kallan MJ, Winston FK. Effect of vehicle type on the performance of second generation air bags for child occupants. Annu Proc Assoc Adv Automot Med. 2003;47:85- 99.

Ballesteros MF, Dischinger PC, Langenberg P. Pedestrian injuries and vehicle type in Maryland, 1995-1999. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2004;36:73-81.

Bedard M, Guyatt GH, Stones MJ, Hirdes JP. The independent contribution of driver, crash, and vehicle characteristics to driver fatalities. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2002;34:717-727.

Buckeridge DL, Glazier R, Harvey BJ, Escobar M, Amrhein C, Frank J. Effect of motor vehicle emissions on respiratory health in an urban area. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110(3):293-300.

Cohen MJ A social problems framework for the critical appraisal of automobility and sustainable systems innovation .Mobilities 2006; 1(1): 23-38.

Crandall CS, Olson LM, Sklar DP. Mortality reduction with air bag and seat belt use in head-on passenger car collisions.American Journal of Epidemiology. 2001;153:219-224.

Daly L, Kallan MJ, Arbogast KB, Durbin DR. Risk of injury to child passengers in sport utility vehicles. Pediatrics. 2006;117:9-14.

Duvall T, Englander F, Englander V, Hodson TJ, Marpet M. Ethical and economic issues in the use of zero-emission vehicles as a component of an air-pollution mitigation strategy. Sci Eng Ethics. 2002;8(4):561-78

Farmer C. Effect of electronic stability control on automobile crash risk. Traffic Inj Prev. 2004;5(4):317-25.

Farmer CM, Braver ER, Mitter EL. Two-vehicle side impact crashes: The relationship of vehicle and crash characteristics to injury severity. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 1997;29:399-406.

Farmer CM, Lund AK. Trends over time in the risk of driver death: what if vehicle designs had not improved? Traffic Inj Prev. 2006;7(4):335-42.

Ferguson SA. The effectiveness of electronic stability control in reducing real-world crashes: a literature review. Traffic Inj Prev. 2007;8(4):329-38.

Ferguson, S.A., Hardy, A.P., Williams, A.F. (2003). Content analysis of television advertising for cars and minivans: 1983-1998. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 35:825-831.

Ferguson SA, Schneider L, Segui-Gomez M, Arbogast K, Augenstein J, Digges KH. The blue ribbon panel on depowered and advanced airbags – status report on airbag Performance. Annu Proc Assoc Adv Automot Med. 2003;47:79-81.

Geyer R. Parametric assessment of climate change impacts of automotive material substitution Environ Sci Technol. 2008;42(18):6973-9.

Hart-Munchel, D.L. Comment: hybrid cars: how they can reduce American air pollution and oil consumption, but why they are not replacing traditional gas guzzling cars and trucks just yet. Penn State Environmental Law Review Fall 2001

Keefe R, Griffin JP, Graham JD. The benefits and costs of new fuels and engines for light-duty vehicles in the United States.Risk Anal. 2008;28(5):1141-54

Knight S, Cook LJ, Nechodom PJ, Olson LM, Reading JC, Dean JM. Shoulder belts in motor vehicle crashes: A statewide analysis of restraint efficacy. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2001;33:65-71.

Mannino DM, Redd SC. National vehicle emissions policies and practices and declining US carbon monoxide-related mortality. JAMA. 2002;288(8):988-95.

Mayrose J, Jehle DVK. Vehicle weight and fatality risk for sport utility vehicle versus passenger car crashes. The Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care. 2002;53.

Mazzi, E.A., Dowlatabadi, H. (2007). Air quality impacts of climate mitigation:UK policy and passenger vehicle choice.Environmental Science and Technology, 41:387-392.

McAuley JW. Global sustainability and key needs in future automotive design. Environ Sci Technol. 2003;37(23):5414-6.

McGwin G Jr, Modjarrad K, Reiland A, Tanner S, Rue LW 3rd. Prevalence of transportation safety measures portrayed in primetime US television programs and commercials. Inj Prev. 2006;12(6):400-3.

Mott JA, Wolfe MI, Alverson CJ, Macdonald SC, Bailey CR, Ball LB, Moorman JE, Somers JH, Sheerman B. Motor industry should introduce soft impact car bodies, says MP. BMJ. 2002;324 (7346):1117.

Nichols, M.W. (1998). Advertising and quality in the US market for automobiles. Southern Economic Journal, 64(4):922-939.

Nirula R, Mock CN, Nathens AB, Grossman DC. The new car assessment program: does it predict the relative safety of vehicles in actual crashes? J Trauma. 2004 Oct;57(4):779-86

Paulozzi LJ. United States pedestrian fatality rates by vehicle type. Inj Prev. 2005;11(4):232-6.

Rivara FP, Cummings P, Mock C. Injuries and death of children in rollover motor vehicle crashes in the united states. Injury Prevention. 2003;9:76-81.

Rivara FP, Koepsell TD, Grossman DC, Mock C. Effectiveness of automatic shoulder belt systems in motor vehicle crashes.JAMA: The Journal Of The American Medical Association. 2000;283:2826-2828.

Roberts I, Wentz R, Edwards P. Car manufacturers and global road safety: a word frequency analysis of road safety documents. Inj Prev. 2006;12(5):320-2.

Robertson LS. Prevention of motor-vehicle deaths by changing vehicle factors. Inj Prev. 2007;13(5):307-10.

Robertson LS. Reducing death on the road: the effects of minimum safety standards, publicized crash tests, seat belts, and alcohol. Am J Public Health. 1996;86(1):31-4.

Robertson LS. Blood and oil: vehicle characteristics in relation to fatality risk and fuel economy. Am J Public Health. 2006 Nov;96(11):1906-9.

Samet JM. Traffic, air pollution, and health. Inhal Toxicol. 2007;19(12):1021-7.

Shin, P.C., Hallet, D., Chipman, M.L., Tator, C., Granton, J.T. (September 2005).

Unsafe driving in North American automobile commercials. Journal of Public Health, 27(4):318-325.

Stephan CH, Sullivan J. Environmental and energy implications of plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles. Environ Sci Technol. 2008;42(4):1185-90.

Streff FM. Field effectiveness of two restraint systems: The 3-point manual belt versus the 2-point motorized-Shoulder/Manual lap belt. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 1995;27:607-610.

Tamburro, R.F., Gordon, P.L., D’Apolito, J.P., Howard, S.C. (2004). Unsafe and violent behavior in commercials aired during televised major sporting events. Pediatrics, 114:694-698.

Trowbridge MJ, McKay MP, Maio RF. Comparison of teen driver fatality rates by vehicle type in the United States. Acad Emerg Med. 2007 Oct;14(10):850-5.

Wenzel TP, Ross M. The effects of vehicle model and driver behavior on risk. The effects of vehicle model and driver behavior on risk. Accid Anal Prev. 2005 May;37(3):479-94.

Williams AF, Wells JK, Farmer CM. Effectiveness of Ford’s belt reminder system in increasing seat belt use. Injury Prevention. 2002;8:293-296.

Wilson N, Maher A, Thomson G, Keall M. Vehicle emissions and consumer information in car advertisements. Environ Health. 2008;7:14.

Woodcock J, Banister D, Edwards P, Prentice AM, Roberts I. Energy and transport. Lancet. 2007;370(9592):1078-88.

Yanchar NL, Kennedy R, Russell C. ATVs: motorized toys or vehicles for children? Inj Prev. 2006 Feb;12(1):30-4.

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Presentation on the Role of Infant Formula Industry in Discouraging Breastfeeding

In this presentation, Deborah Kaplan describes the role of the infant formula industry in discouraging breastfeeding and promoting its own products. She also describes the health consequences of these actions.

Presentation on Policies to Reduce the Promotion and Accessibility of Unhealthy Foods

In a presentation format suitable for use in college and community classes, nutritionist Lauren Dinour provides an overview of some of the approaches that policy makers and advocates are using to protect the public against promotion of unhealthy food.

The Financial Crisis and Public Health: Hidden Opportunities for Prevention?

In this commentary, CHW founder and director Nicholas Freudenberg examines how the current financial crisis may influence corporate health practices and asks whether the crisis may present the public health community with new opportunities to advance healthier policies and to restore a more just balance between markets and government.


Continue reading The Financial Crisis and Public Health: Hidden Opportunities for Prevention?

Where guns come from: Examining the role of industry in firearm availability

In the flow of guns from manufacturer to consumer, regulations that prevent illegal gun sales are currently too weak to stem gun violence. Health advocates are looking to an Obama administration to boost regulatory practices. This CHW report looks at the firearm industry’s role in making guns available and accessible.

Conflicts over guns are often framed as disputes between those who support the Second Amendment, interpreted to guarantee individuals the right to own guns, and those who want to take guns away from people who want or need them. In fact, public health advocates often have a more narrow goal: reducing illegal trafficking in guns so that those currently ineligible to own guns have a harder time getting them. In this view, the conflict is not about the constitution but rather about how guns are distributed and regulated.

Unlike every other consumer product on the market except tobacco, firearms are not subject to federal safety regulations. “The manufacturers are left to their own devices to sell, make and market guns,” said gun control advocate and Stop Handgun Violence Co-Founder John Rosenthal.

SHV has been working to reduce gun violence with (among other efforts) a billboard campaign. The 532-foot billboard that flanks the Massachusetts Turnpike hopes to bring public attention to the lack of gun regulations. The billboard’s current message highlights how gun shows provide easy access to unchecked gun sales. Every year there are 5,000 gun shows, and in 35 states, private sellers can set up tables at these shows to sell guns without performing ID and background checks.

This Corporations and Health Watch report focuses on the role of gun manufacturers and dealers in making guns available and accessible. We also examine some of the ways that public health professionals, gun control advocates and community organizations are working to reduce gun violence.

Mary Vriniotis, communications liaison for the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center and a researcher on the impact of firearms availability says, “There is a vast secondary market through which prohibited buyers can obtain guns. Efforts to identify corrupt dealers, trace guns recovered in crimes, and implement other means of addressing and stemming the flow of illegal guns could be greatly improved with little to no imposition on law-abiding gun owners and dealers.”

David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and author of the book, Private Guns, Public Health (2004) examined legal requirements during two periods in a gun’s ‘life span’: manufacture and point of sale. While both manufacturers and dealers are required to be federally licensed, federal licensing alone is insufficient. In the flow of firearms from manufacturer to dealer to the individual buyer, what’s missing is adequate enforcement of existing regulations as well as additional policies that could reduce illegal sales and gun trafficking.

The First Stop in a Gun’s Life span: Unregulated Manufacturers

Firearm manufacturers are required to be federally licensed, but their business practices are largely unregulated. Information on business operations, including ownership, sales and profits are not publicly available because most manufacturing companies are private (Hemenway, 2004). In addition, their product is not subject to the strict safety regulations in place for other consumer products, which are enforced by federally funded agencies like the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.

While it may seem paradoxical to enforce safety standards on products that are, by design, harmful, Rosenthal (himself a gun owner) says that, “increasing regulation would reduce death and injury to a fraction of what we are at now.”

The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that firearms were responsible for 30,000 deaths and 80,000 injuries in 2005.

Firearm manufacturers also escape marketing regulations. Marketing and advertising decisions are left to the discretion of manufactures and many gun ads focus on features that increase a gun’s lethality. For example, the Five-SeveN Herstal FN, a Belgian-made handgun sold in the US, can fire armor-piercing bullets. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that Herstal FN advertised one variety of the handgun as being able to “perforate 48 layers of Kevlar.” In other words, when loaded with a particular kind of ammunition, the handgun can penetrate body armor worn by police.

Rosenthal said “Gun manufacturers play an enormous role in gun availability,” but under the Bush administration, “manufacturers were let off the hook [when] Congress gave manufacturers immunity.” The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S.397) prohibits civil lawsuits against manufacturers and sellers of firearms.

Next Stop: Licensed Gun Dealers, Weak Enforcement

Guns are sold in one of two markets: via federally licensed gun dealers (primary market), or private sellers (secondary market). Manufacturers only sell their products directly to federally licensed gun dealers, who in turn sell these guns to consumers—provided they pass a federally required background check. But this theoretical pathway is not always followed.

In 1999, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) released a report that found 57% of guns used in crime can be traced back to 1.2% of gun dealers. If a small proportion of dealers are the sellers of guns used in the majority of guns recovered from crime, then there is a break in the legal procurement of guns.

Lori O’Neill, Executive Director of Citizens for Safety-Ohio said, “Federally licensed dealers are complicit in gun violence because they’re responsible for almost 60% of the guns on the street.”

O’Neill and Citizens for Safety are involved in a community action campaign, Where Did the Gun Come From?, which shines a light on data that can be used to reframe gun violence. She said that it is important to shift public awareness from the Second Amendment issue to a crime and public health issue.

With a clear connection between a very small proportion of federally licensed gun dealers and guns used in crime, why doesn’t the ATF intervene to prevent further sales by these dealers? While structurally in place, gun regulation through ATF intervention is often futile. Laws that would ensure ATF and police efficacy are decidedly weak and do not protect the public.

For example, through licensing requirements, federally licensed dealers are known to ATF officers. If an ATF investigation finds that dealers have been selling guns illegally, they can convict the dealers. However, gun dealers’ business is likely to continue because their stock is not confiscated and they are allowed to hand their license to family members. Furthermore, there are so many dealers and so few ATF inspectors that a typical dealer is only inspected about once every seven years (Hemenway, 2004).

With such shocking numbers, “you’d think Congress would use that [ATF] report and make changes and promote public safety,” John Rosenthal said. He believes the main reason Congress does not intervene with comprehensive federal standards to reduce illegal gun sales is due to gun rights lobbying efforts. “It is both fear and influence of the NRA in Congress,” he said.

The NRA recognizes itself as “a major political force and as America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.” In 2007, NRA spent $1.8 million lobbying for gun rights. As a single issue, gun rights groups rank among the top 5 in lobbyist spending with 2007 totals reaching $3.8 million. By comparison, gun control advocates spent $200,000 on lobby efforts.

In the US, citizens can carry a concealed weapon if they meet their state’s requirements. At a minimum, people are required to be 21 years old and pass a criminal background check. If a licensed gun dealer fails to perform these checks, the ATF can intervene. However, as noted above, investigating and convicting licensed gun dealers often does not prevent the problem from occurring again.

Another way licensed gun dealers contribute to illegal gun sales is by selling guns to ‘straw purchasers,’ people who frequently buy guns legally and then resell the guns to prohibited buyers. O’Neill cites testimony from convicted straw purchasers that describe how easy it is to buy lots of guns and sell them on the street or at gun shows (public events where unregulated gun sales occur).

The Secondary Market: Unfettered Gun Sales

Straw purchasers and gun shows are key mechanisms through which guns originally sold in the primary market (licensed gun dealers) are resold via the secondary market. Straw sales are by definition illegal; the buyer is not the end user. Straw purchasers may engage in ‘gun running’: buying guns in bulk in a state with more permissive gun laws, and reselling them on the streets of states with more restrictive gun laws.

But prohibited buyers need not rely on a straw purchaser to obtain a gun. The 5,000 gun shows hosted annually nationwide are a haven for prohibited buyers, as private (non-licensed) sellers are not required to conduct background checks on prospective buyers. In other words, at gun shows, anyone can sell guns to anyone, with few or no questions asked. Even though preventing illegal gun sales could reduce gun trafficking, there are no regulations in place to prevent people not permitted to buy guns from buying weapons at gun shows. Attempts to close the gun show loophole or enact other regulation of the secondary market at the state level are also met with resistance from gun rights lobbyists.

Responding to Gun Violence with Recommended Regulations and Action

In July of this year, the Supreme Court ruled on a Second Amendment case, striking down firearms control regulations in DC. The ruling addressed the scope of the Second Amendment by examining the “rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other firearms for private use in their homes.”

In a 5-4 vote on the District of Columbia v. Heller (554 U.S., 2008), the  Justices decided  that Second Amendment rights extend to individuals living in communities with gun bans, such as Washington, D.C. Other cities that passed strict gun laws over the past 30 years in order to protect the public from violence and injury, now face the possibility of having to repeal those laws. In light of this decision, advocates will increasingly look to firearm regulation—not the constitution—to protect public health.

Vriniotis said one-gun-per-month laws, designed to curb gun-running and only implemented in three states, are an example of legislation that can reduce gun trafficking. She said that before Virginia enacted a one-gun-per-month law, many of the guns recovered in Boston came from that state. Now, many of the guns recovered are instead traced to states without this law. “This shows one-gun-per-month laws have an effect on criminal behavior and, if federally adopted, could dramatically reduce the availability of guns to prohibited buyers by impeding the trafficking of guns inside and across state lines,” Vriniotis said.

In an effort to curb gun violence, public health advocates will be looking to President-elect Obama and the new Congress to repeal firearm manufacture immunity. Repeal of this immunity, set out in the Tiahrt Amendment, will restore the public’s ability to hold manufacturers accountable for gun violence.

“Gun manufacturers play an enormous role in the availability of guns,” Rosenthal said, so repealing Tiahrt “is a good place to start.” He also recommends states follow Massachusetts’ lead by imposing consumer safety protection requirements on gun manufacturers.

The Citizens for Safety group uses a community organizing approach to educate people about where guns come from. This past summer, the group started workshops, called Traffic Jam, in six Boston neighborhoods. The curriculum was developed by Citizens for Safety with cooperation from the Boston Police Department and the ATF.

O’Neill said community response has been “unbelievable.” At the workshops, community members construct solutions to illegal gun sales. One program seeks to have multiple stakeholders at the table, including gun dealers, community members and law enforcement. O’Neill said Citizens for Safety is trying to duplicate the successful partnership created this year between the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition and Wal-Mart, the nation’s number one gun seller.

Erica Sullivan is a graduate student in urban public health at Hunter College, City University of New York.

New Report on Promotion of Unhealthy Food: Reversing Obesity in New York City

An Action Plan for Reducing the Promotion and Accessibility of Unhealthy Food examines the role of the food industry in promoting unhealthy food and suggests policy directions for reducing its influence. Released by the City University of New York Campaign Against Diabetes and the Public Health Association of New York City, the report argues that increasing access to healthier food and opportunities for physical activity is necessary but not sufficient to reduce obesity, diabetes and related health conditions. Without also reducing the availability and promotion of unhealthy food, government will not be successful in reversing the growing burden of obesity.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health