Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

“In Times of Crisis They Will Come out Stronger”

September 26, 2020 · 2 Comments · CDoH, Uncategorized

“In Times of Crisis They Will Come out Stronger”



I invite you for one moment to look at the picture above. I know this is something we are totally used to – nothing special – just one Pepsi commercial during a football game. Again nothing special – but if we think closely, there is something that does not match. Sport is a healthy habit, promoting sports means promoting a healthy lifestyle, meanwhile the advertisement is about a non-alcoholic, sugar-sweetened beverage, higher consumption of which will lead to health problems. So, how can these two stand together?

Well, welcome to commercial determinants of health (CDoH). First of all, according to WHO  social determinants of health are conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes.

 Meanwhile commercial determinants of health (CDoH) have been defined as factors that influence human health which stem from the profit motive and include strategies and approaches used by the private sector to promote products and choices that are detrimental to health (Kickbusch et al.). I have italic some keywords which are: influence human health, stem from profit, strategies and approaches by the private sector, to promote products and choices. 

Returning back to our example. It now makes sense why we can consider it as CDoH; is a promotion of a product, used by the private sector to generate profit, and it influences human health. The strategy and the approach that they are using is: advertisement through partnerships with sport companies. 

Companies that produce alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and fatty foods often enter into sponsorship deals and market their products through professional sports leagues, in competitions and events across the world (Ndebele et al 2020). 

These commercial determinants of health not only increase the burden of chronic disease and disability but they also impact the early life experiences of children, which has been shown to influence the weight gain of children through to adult life. 

“Junk food advertising during sporting matches builds positive associations between their sporting heroes and unhealthy food and drink brands,” – said The Obesity Policy Coalition’s Executive Manager Jane Martin.

But, advertisements are not the only way corporations are impacting our health. Their strategies are extended through other channels like lobbying, corporate social responsibility and improved supply chains. (Read more here)


“In Every Previous Crisis, Military, Economic or Pandemic, in the Last 134 Years, the Coke Company Has Come out Stronger.” – CEO of Coca-Cola


We have been surrounded all of our life by CDoHs, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDoHs emergeded themself even more, and found ways to be “the heroes” at the expense of public health.

A report  published by the NCD Alliance and Spectrum claims that these corporations used the crisis to boost partnerships with governments and increase brand loyalty within desperate communities.

Some examples mentioned in the report include:

 McDonald’s “Loving Southeast Missouri” campaign offered healthcare workers a free “thank you meal” if they would post a selfie of themselves with the meal, while McDonald’s in Guatemala delivered meals to healthcare staff who were at the frontlines of COVID-19.

PepsiCo in China celebrated care workers and hospitals by having a limited edition of new soda label cans.

Cadbury in India, re-branded their package with a small “Thank You”as an honor to medical heroes.

Furthermore, a lot of these companies promoted themselves as critical frontline workers and they were telling consumers “We got you America” or #HereforYou.

They took part in campaigns promoting social distancing, staying home (they will deliver food for you) even promoting no-hands challenges on social media, and donations to Save the Children for the first 1M video uploads.

Chocolates in Israel “fought” the virus by removing the world “Keef” which means  high five, to promote no touching. No more “Keef-Kef”, only “Kef” now. While Brazil suggests that “Good beer is like air: you can’t live without it”  and the three tips to survive are isolate, use sanitiser and drink beer for fun. 


                                         “The problem was championed as the solution”


All of these corporations offered themselves as solutions while the truth is that most of what they promote (alcohol, junk food, sweetened beverages) are in the deep roots of the problem. Constant studies have shown that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the causes of high death rates globally, and people with NCDs are at a higher rate to suffer more complications from COVID-19 and have higher mortality rate from the disease.


Unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and tobacco are among risk factors to develop NCDs such as: obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes.  


“These industries are gaining more grounds and winning the trust of people through their actions-’so called kind gestures’. They are deliberately and consciously penetrating into the hearts and minds of the people. A contributing factor for the high increase in NCD cases.” – Labraham Musah, Ghana NCD Alliance 


We covered only the marketing strategies that these industries are using to play “the champion”, but the techniques they used go on with philanthropy, voluntary actions that claim to be used in the public interest, and establishing partnerships with governments and civil society. ( Read the full report here)


 In Times of Crisis they … might come out Stronger… but it is our moral duty to protect our health. Being in a pandemic is not a justification to go back on years of improvement. There are ethical frameworks that need to be considered in every new marketing strategy, every new initiative or collaboration even when they are done for the “sake” of the pandemic. A not-healthy approach to deal with this problem, will lead us to a new one in the near future, -the “NCDs pandemic”.

PS: If you know more examples of unhealthy corporations actions, please contribute to the gathering here.





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