Biz Regulation, Cooperation May Improve Public Health

Head-to-Head debate centers on how to encourage industries to help create solutions to societal health problems
By Eric Metcalf
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- The ideal way to encourage big businesses to respond to public health problems could involve compelling them with performance-based regulations or, conversely, fostering an atmosphere of collaboration with them, according to two Head-to-Head articles published Oct. 2 in BMJ.

Stephen D. Sugarman, J.D., of the University of California-Berkeley, writes that entering into voluntary agreements with industries such as junk food manufacturers and tobacco companies, aren't sufficient for creating the desired public health outcomes. Rather, the government might tell these companies that they must ensure outcomes such as less childhood obesity or reduced smoking prevalence. Such companies could then develop their own creative approaches to accomplish these requirements or face a penalty.

However, Stig Pramming of the Oxford Health Alliance in London, United Kingdom, responds that increased regulation and the resulting changes from industry aren't guaranteed to change behaviors, particularly when these behaviors are deeply rooted in a society. Instead, businesses are growing increasingly sensitive to the societal effects of their practices and concerned about the public's perception of them. As a result, cooperation and partnerships with businesses offer the way to encourage corporate responsibility.

"The North American supermarket chain Hannaford has [implemented] its own nutrition score for in-store products in order to guide consumers to the healthiest alternative in each food group," Pramming writes. "Cooperation is an urgent priority, and we must act to ensure that business is part of the solution. Regulation is no substitute for collaboration. We have no time left to lose."

Sugarman disclosed a relationship with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is a paid consultant to Public Health Law and Policy, which receives grants from both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and California Tobacco Control Program.

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