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The Corporate Determinants of Health: How Big Business Affects Our Health, and the Need for Government Action!

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Abstract

Corporations have a great effect on the health of Canadians.

Good companies create jobs, sell valued products at market value, pay a living wage, empower employees, have progressive human resource policies (parental, mental health leaves, workplace wellness programs, day care), and pay their appropriate corporate taxes. They embrace corporate social responsibility and some have a triple bottom line–people, planet and profits. More good corporations are needed.

But others are selling products that are damaging to health and the environment, at prices that do not account for these damaging effects and often target consumers that are ill-informed and susceptible (e.g., children). These include businesses involving tobacco, alcohol, drugs, junk foods and beverages, resource extraction, arms production and the electronic media.

Governments have a responsibility to take action when the market mechanism fails in this way.

A priority for action is the food and beverage sector. The overconsumption of sugar, fat and salt is causing a rising prevalence of all the major chronic diseases, rising health care costs and declining population health and productivity. Urgent government action is required: taxation, advertising and sales restrictions, and a salt reduction program.

Résumé

Les sociétés exercent une grande influence sur la santé des Canadiens.

Les bonnes entreprises créent des emplois, vendent des produits appréciés à leur valeur marchande, versent des salaires suffisants, habilitent leurs employés, ont des politiques de ressources humaines progressistes (congés parentaux et de santé mentale, programmes de mieux-être au travail, services de garde) et paient l’impôt des sociétés. Elles sont d’accord avec le principe de la responsabilité sociale des entreprises, et certaines présentent un triple bilan–sur leurs performances sociales, environnementales et financières. Il faudrait que les bonnes entreprises soient plus nombreuses.

D’autres par contre vendent des produits dommageables pour la santé et l’environnement, à des prix qui ne tiennent pas compte de ces dommages; elles ciblent souvent des consommateurs mal informés et vulnérables (comme les enfants). On trouve ces entreprises dans les secteurs du tabac, de l’alcool, des médicaments, des aliments et boissons vides, de l’extraction des ressources, de la production d’armements et des médias électroniques.

Les gouvernements ont la responsabilité d’agir lorsque le mécanisme du marché fait ainsi défaut.

Il faut agir en priorité dans le secteur des aliments et boissons. La surconsommation de sucre, de matières grasses et de sel entraîne une prévalence accrue de toutes les grandes maladies chroniques, une hausse des coûts des soins de santé et une baisse de la santé et de la productivité des populations. Une action urgente du gouvernement s’impose: fiscalité, limitation de la publicité et des ventes et programme de réduction du sel.

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Correspondence to John S. Millar MD, FRCPC.

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Conflict of Interest: None to declare.

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Millar, J.S. The Corporate Determinants of Health: How Big Business Affects Our Health, and the Need for Government Action!. Can J Public Health 104, e327–e329 (2013). https://doi.org/10.17269/cjph.104.3849

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.17269/cjph.104.3849

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