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McDomination: How Corporations Conquered America and Ruined Our Health

The corporate class now holds a staggering level of power in Washington — and we've all paid the price.

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Each of these options had health consequences, but two, the marketing of blockbuster products and the relentless efforts to develop new markets, have had direct and particularly harmful results for people’s health. It is the growth of these corporate practices that set the stage for the global epidemics of chronic diseases and injuries.

Blockbusters satisfy investors, who then reward the managers who have brought them to market. But as the stories of Saturday night specials, SUVs, and Vioxx show, new products often have flaws or unintended consequences, and the massive advertising and retail distribution needed to achieve blockbuster status mean that millions of people can be exposed to a product before the hazard becomes apparent. In addition, given the benefits that blockbusters bring, managers feel justified in cutting corners, resisting safety regulations, exaggerating the benefits, or minimizing the harms. After all, given that chronic conditions take years to develop and that faulty product design may be difficult to detect without counting bodies, it is likely that managers will have moved on and companies changed hands before problems are identified.

A second option for corporate managers who are expected to produce positive quarterly returns is to find new markets where rapid expansion is possible. As we have seen, the tobacco industry discovered women as new recruits for tobacco use in the 1920s. After the 1990s, the industry turned its attention to women and young people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In this situation, an industry took an existing product and marketed it to new customers. The marketing of alcopops and guns to young women and unhealthy foods to blacks and Latinos in the United States are other examples of this strategy.

Excerpted from  “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health” by Nicholas Freudenberg. Copyright © 2014 by Nicholas Freudenberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Oxford University Press, a division of Oxford University. All rights reserved.


Nicholas Freudenberg is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at City University of New York and Hunter College. He is the author of the 2014 book "Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health," published by Oxford University Press.