Friday, February 18, 2011

Sustainable Health Promotion

On February 2nd, Denise Stevens, the head of Matrix Public Health Solutions, the company that leads the Community Interventions for Health (CIH) project, was beamed into our classroom via Skype to present the CIH project strategy for chronic disease prevention. She laid out an extremely ambitious health promotion strategy that spanned 3 risk factors: tobacco, unhealthy diet, and physical activity; 3 countries: Mexico, India, and China; and 4 approaches: health education, social marketing, community mobilization, and structural change (Stevens, 2011).

The CIH intervention I think is the most emblematic of what it takes for sustainable health promotion is their tobacco reduction campaign in China, which has “smoking center inspectors” enforcing a city wide no-smoking ordinance. This one got my attention because not just anybody can waltz into China, a country that the WHO reports is “the world's largest producer and consumer of tobacco,” and establish an anti-smoking police force to enforce a CIH strategy. I had been studying sustainable health promotion for almost a decade, from WHO’s EPI to BRAC and including my own struggles with small-scale community health promotion. It seems I have never been able to grasp that elusive ingredient for sustainable health promotion. So here was someone drinking from the Holy Grail; I shot my hand up to ask, “how did you make that happen and who pays for it?”

It turned out that she knows the retired head of the Chinese version of the CDC and that the Pepsico foundation is a major funder behind CIH’s projects. She pointed out the prestige that comes from working with American partners is a bigger incentive for many of her international partners than money.

This funding and prestige revelation led me to research the Pepsico Foundation. Its goals and mission are in step with Pepsico’s own corporate mission and are found on the corporate website. CEO Indra Nooyi supports taking the lead in corporate responsibility and cultivating sustainability in the environment and health arenas (2010b). With Pepsico specifically in mind, I drew a concept map to illustrate the interaction between a corporation attempting to create a sustainable health promotion program in a globalized world and the communities it serves. With Pepsico’s war chest and corporate efficiency, they can fund community projects all over the world and gain access to academic and political elites “to help devise solutions to key global challenges” (Pepsico, 2010b). My map also shows the cycle of profits that fuel Pepsico, as their mission cannot be totally altruistic.

The hard truth is that health systems all over the world struggle to deliver primary care or health promotion, especially to the least fortunate (Frownfelter and Dean, 2006; Holman and Lorig, 2004). One of the main reasons for this is that the demand for secondary and tertiary care is less affected by price (Roberts et al, 2004). This means that when people are sick they are willing to pay whatever it costs to save their own life. This high demand creates a stable need for professionals and thus status becomes attached.

“Basic food” is another high demand commodity (Roberts et al., 2004 p. 164). There will always be a demand for food, and companies that control the food market are some of the richest and most powerful. Ironically, many of their products are partly responsible for exacerbating the prevalence of some chronic diseases.

In contrast, health promotion, and even primary care are extremely price sensitive and do not generate the high revenues like acute care services (Roberts et al., 2004). Simply put, people in general don’t value something that may prevent possible future costs and are less willing to create a demand for those services. This is why I believe that corporations are better poised to deliver health promotion. The new trend in corporate responsibility and sustainability provides the funding, visibility, and sustainability for health promotion in ways that other entities cannot support. Thus, it is important that we in public health can see this as an opportunity to develop public-private partnerships to ensure that such corporate campaigns deliver the right information.


Frownfelter, D., Dean, E. (2006). Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy evidence and practice. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby Inc.

Holman, H., Lorig, K. (2004). Patient self-management: a key to effectiveness and efficiency in care of chronic disease. Public Health Reports, 119:239-243.

Pepisco. (2010a). Corporate fact sheet. Retreived on . Retrieved on February 6, 2011 from

Pepisco. (2010b). Letter from Indra Nooyi. Retrieved on February 6, 2011 from

Roberts, M. J., Hsiao, W., Berman, P., Reich, M.R. (2004). Getting Health Reform Right: A Guide to Improving Perfomance and Equity. New York, Oxford University Press.

Stevens, D. (2011). A systems oriented solution to a complex public health problem. [PowerPoint slides] Retrieved on February 19, 2011 from Simon Fraser University webct

WHO. Towards a tobacco-free China. Retrieved on February 16, 2011 from

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