Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

How Commercial Determinants of Health Affect Us Every Day

September 26, 2020 · No Comments · CDoH, Uncategorized

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Commercial Determinants of Health (CDoH) as “factors that influence health which stem from the profit motive” (WHO, 2019). Corporate influence is typically exerted through four main ways: advertising, lobbying, corporate social responsibility, and improved supply chains (Ndebele et al., 2020). But when these products produced by companies are harmful for our health, who is at fault? This post will focus on the two biggest commercial determinants of health (in my opinion) that affect us every day.

Advertising is easily seen throughout everyone’s daily lives. Every day on social media platforms, television commercials, and even billboards, we are bombarded with messages from many different companies. Advertising can be potentially harmful to people in at risk areas, the youth, the elderly, etc. In other countries, tobacco companies are still allowed to advertise heavily in areas especially among the poor. Tobacco companies make their products seem as if everyone is using them and skirt around the risks and health hazards of smoking. Companies are also able to track what products you look up and websites you visit on your mobile phone, computer, tablet, and any other internet accessible device. This allows the companies to spam the consumer with more ads of new or different products that are related to the products that you have already searched for. The advertising on television is typically for products that are not beneficial to the health of the consumer that is viewing it. For example, during the Super Bowl, the majority of the advertisements during the commercial breaks were for unhealthy food options such as junk food and sugary beverages. Usually there is a sweet, sentimental message in the advertisement during the Super Bowl especially, but this only masks the hidden message from the company that is you should buy the company’s product. Other major advertisements that are on television are paid for by big pharmaceutical companies. The purpose of the advertisement is to compel the individual to ask their healthcare practitioner for this brand new (and probably expensive) drug.


Another major problem in the consumer world is the “Illusion of Choice”. This phenomenon is when the consumer thinks that there are many different brands or options to choose from, when in reality most brands are owned by a few “parent” companies. For example, the parent company General Mills owns the different baking product companies Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Gold Medal, and Pillsbury. These companies are all branded differently and advertised differently. There is even overlap in the products that these different “brands” produce (like cake mixes for example). But because there is different advertising and different labeling, this gives the illusion of choice to the consumer. Even though the person will still be giving money to the same company General Mills and getting arguably the same product, the consumer thinks they are making a decision when choosing between a Pillsbury or Betty Crocker cake mix.


Companies spend massive amounts of money on lobbying. Lobbying is more of a “behind the scenes” type of commercial determinant of health. Lobbying is not seen by the average individual because it involves companies donating large sums of money to political parties, individual policymakers, and other influential people that can affect the policies, regulations, or other things directly related to the company’s products. Companies are allowed to donate to political campaigns because they are considered a single entity (aka a person), even if the employees of the company do not necessarily agree with the viewpoints of the person who is running for office. In the political world, there is such a thing called a super political action committee (pac). A super pac is basically a massive collection of money even though there are also human members. The super pacs are typically what get political candidates into office. Look for more information on super pacs here. Typically, these groups are the ones who write the bill that they want to be passed by the representative (whose campaign they funded). This is EXTREMELY problematic. It is a problem because the representatives are not working for the people they are supposed to represent anymore, but rather these giant corporations. The company is only interested in the company’s profit. Many companies will have other positive, altruistic messages, but the bottom line in a for-profit company is money and how to increase profit margins.

Companies are not necessarily the bad guys in this situation (even though they really sound like it). People make up companies and these people want and need to make money. People vote in representatives that are paid for and influenced by these companies. If people boycotted politicians that did not take money from super pacs, large corporations, etc. then there would be people in power who are rooting for the working class (“little guys”). It is also ultimately up to the consumer on the products that they choose to put into their body or give their money to. We are our own judge on what we want to do and support. I personally love a nice cold Sprite every once in awhile but I know that it is not good for my health or good for me to drink every day. But I make these decisions for myself and need to educate myself on what is good and what is not for my body and ignore all the persistent advertisements.


Ndebele, P., Shaikh, H., Paichadze, N., Bari, I., Michaels, D., Burgoa, C. S., & Hyder, A. A. (2020).  Commercial determinants of health: An ethical exploration. International Journal of Public Health, 65(7), 1123-1132. doi:10.1007/s00038-020-01427-x


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