Public health experts call for bold action to prioritise health over profit
People, profits, and health, a three-paper series published today in global health journal The Lancet sheds light on the impact of commercial entities on human and planetary health and calls for urgent action to prioritise health over profit.
The series highlights that many commercial organisations’ practices and products are contributing to growing health problems and harming the environment, with industries that produce tobacco, alcohol, highly processed foods, and fossil fuels responsible for over a third of preventable global deaths each year.[i]
University of Melbourne Professor Rob Moodie, Series convenor and Professor of Public Health at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, said we are at a crunch point in history, emphasising now is the time for transformative change to create a healthier and more sustainable world.
"We all want to be part of a society that's safe, happy and healthy but this will only happen when governments make the health of people and the planet a higher priority than profit.
“This series isn’t anti-business, it’s pro-health. It’s important that we acknowledge that many businesses play vital roles in society, but we also need to recognise the practices and products of some are making people and the environment sick.
“With the rise of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes and the escalating climate crisis, urgent action is needed to address the way businesses contribute to these problems, and in particular, industries that sell harmful products.” Professor Moodie said.
The Lancet Series authors identify a broader range of commercial practices beyond the production and promotion of harmful products that harm the health of people and the planet, and contribute to inequities across society. In Australia, this includes corporations:
- Shaping the policies of government to advance their interests through lobbying, including using third parties such as fake grassroots (astroturf) organisations and think tanks to push political agendas. This practice was demonstrated recently with the creation of pro-vaping lobby group, Responsible Vaping Australia - backed by British American Tobacco - to influence Australian vaping laws;
- Threatening and taking legal action, and intimidating opponents;
- Shaping physical environments, for example, opening more alcohol and unhealthy food stores in lower socioeconomic areas, thereby limiting the healthy options to those who live there;
- Avoiding paying their fair share of tax, limiting the funds governments have available to spend on healthcare and social services.
Professor Sharon Friel, lead author of paper 3 and Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance, School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University, stressed the need for bold action to reduce harmful commercial influences on health and wellbeing.
“Courageous steps must be taken to rethink economic and political systems, and implement international frameworks and government policy, and regenerative business and finance models that benefit health, society and the environment." Professor Friel said.
“Health organisations and other civil society groups independent of vested commercial interests, grassroots groups, journalists, academics and citizens play a major role in mobilising action on the commercial determinants of health, creating a body of knowledge and practice that can inform development of effective strategies to address commercial forces.”
The Lancet Series highlights the need for governments across the world to prioritise systems and policies that prioritise health and prompt a global rebalancing of power including:
- Adopting wellbeing economies and governance approaches that prioritise the wellbeing of people and planet;
- Higher standards for marketing of harmful products, including honest product labelling and protections for people from predatory marketing tactics including via social media;
- Policies that provide secure funding for preventive health and the whole health system, discourage harmful product consumption, reduce wealth inequalities, and ensure corporations are accountable for the full health, social and environmental costs of their activities.
Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO of VicHealth, heralded The Lancet Series as an important contribution to our thinking on one of the most challenging health issues of our age.
“As an organisation, VicHealth has long supported independent and world-class research. It’s these robust and evidence-driven insights from global health experts that provide us with the roadmap for addressing health challenges from vaping to unhealthy food.”
Dr Demaio said the series was particularly relevant given chronic disease is Australia’s biggest killer, contributing to 9 in 10 deaths nationally.
“To address the growing and significant burden of chronic disease among Australians, investment in prevention is essential,” Dr Demaio said.
“We need actions like improving access to affordable, fresh food for more Australians, doubling our supports for those quitting smoking and boosting youth participation in sport and active recreation – investments like this can return around $14.30 to the Australian economy for every dollar we invest.”