Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

“Essential Checklist: Water? Check. Bread? Check. Soda? Check.”

September 26, 2020 · 2 Comments · CDoH, Uncategorized

By: Taelor Moran

You remember it. It wasn’t too long ago the panic struck…before masks and sanitizers became our new normal. It was only March or April when people were sent home from work from fear of spreading a new virus, and when stores were continuously out of stock of paper towels and toilet paper. If you need a reminder, its here: Toilet Paper Craze Captured on Video . Fed by competing information from news sources, and the sudden changes imposed on the public, the American people were all experiencing a broad range of the same valid emotion: fear. Commodity industries, however, had a different thought blooming in their minds: opportunity. Quite a few industries who’s items of sale are considered Commercial Determinants of Health have been using this pandemic as a way to boost their own pockets. And the kicker? The government is letting them!

Commercial Determinants of Health (or CDoHs for short) are, according to WHO, “factors that influence health which stem from the profit motive” (,promotion%20and%20pricing%20of%20consumables ) . Usually these are products that don’t influence our health in a good way. Now that I’ve described it for you, do a couple come to mind? Perhaps you passed a few of them on your way home, like a McDonald’s or a Wendy’s. Or maybe you have some in front of you now, like a carton of cigarettes or a cup of soda. Sporting events often have large advertisements of them from start to finish, and the jingles from their commercials are well known by kids and adults alike. The marketing of these harmful items or negatively affecting our health on the regular. However, instead of this time of uncertainty being used to focus on encouraging the American people to get and stay healthy, corporations have been using this time to not only make more money, but to groom the economy so that it stays  this way. One of the ways that corporations are doing this is by going above and beyond to identify themselves as “essential”. That’s right- Coke is claiming that it is just as essential as your toilet paper and sandwich bread. Alcohol, tobacco, and packaged foods worked hard to make sure that the government gave them the essential title, so that their manufacturing, distributing, and sales process would not be paused or inconvenienced during the pandemic (Collin, 2020). Although this does sound like a very American thing to happen, characteristically, this was happening all over the world.

Buying Cigarettes High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

Purchasing tobacco in Bangladesh (

               Tobacco is huge in the market of Bangladesh. So, even though the Bangladesh health ministry requested that tobacco production and sales be stopped during the COVID lock down, the decision was turned down by the Ministry of Industries because it was felt that Bangladesh would “lose valuable foreign exchange and revenue” (Collin, 2020). The fear the tobacco industry in Bangladesh had over possibly losing business (although it would likely be in exchange of saving lives) can be read more about here:  When compiling their official list of essential items and services, Kenya’s government included not just highly processed foods and drinks, but tobacco and alcohol as well, claiming these products are “essential to the sustenance of lives and efforts” (Collin, 2020). Nestle (yes, the people that make the chocolate snacks), also boldly claimed that snacks are “just as important as essential nutrients” (Collin, 2020). Even when workers were calling, no- begging for halt in the production of products so that they could self-quarantine with their families, FoodDrinkEurope encouraged Europe’s government to “recognize the entire food supply chain as essential”, which included processed foods and alcohol (Collin, 2020). The link to read the full article about this is here: . Spirits Europe demanded something similar, wanting to be recognized as a “part of the food supply chain, including the spirits sector, as an essential activity.” (Collins, 2020).

Shocked yet? Governments using their power of authority in, and responsibility to inform, the public by saying that these products that are easily identified as harmful are deemed as necessary to survive. Which is an utter lie. Going the entire time of the COVID lockdown without soft drinks being available would have only helped the health of the general public. As I read the article cited here for the first time, I could not believe what I was reading. Drinking alcohol considered an ‘essential activity’?! If anything, it should be considered merely a social one, and that is only when it is consumed safely and responsibly. As someone learning and working in the public health field, I can’t help but to wonder what differences could have been made if we as a society had taken this forced change in our lifestyles that COVID brought as an opportunity be healthier. There are reports from all over the world about environmental issues that have gotten better since people have stayed mostly indoors for months. The air was a little cleaner, the water a little clearer, and animals have populated areas they haven’t in years thanks to a lack of human intervention. Unintentionally, we let the Earth heal a bit from all the damage we do to it every day, but we continued to do the daily damage to our bodies that consuming high-processed foods and alcohol, and using tobacco does. And the government, who we are supposed to trust to lead us in times of fear, and do what is best for the people seems to be most concerned with doing what is best for their pockets instead.



Collin J; Ralston R; Hill SE, Westerman L (2020) Signalling Virtue, Promoting Harm: Unhealthy commodity

industries and COVID-19. NCD Alliance, SPECTRUM


Imam, S. H. (2020, May 20). ‘It is not possible to shut down tobacco industry in a hurry’. Retrieved September 22, 2020, from


Ireland, R., Bunn, C., Reith, G., Philpott, M., Capewell, S., Boyland, E., & Chambers, S. (2019, March 26). Commercial determinants of health: Advertising of alcohol and unhealthy foods during sporting events. Retrieved September 22, 2020, from




  • jshah13

    I enjoyed reading your blog and your perspective on CDoH. Especially the way you described the pandemic as a self-healing process of nature.

  • jbarrios5

    I really enjoyed your perspective on this topic! Tying commercial determinants of health with COVID-19 and highlighting some of the crazy things like alcohol as an “essential activity” was really interesting to read!

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