Governments around the world have been slow to implement the World Health Organization’s recommended public health policies on alcohol, unhealthy foods and tobacco, according to a study led by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in the journal The Lancet Global Health.
Implementation has been particularly low in poor less-democratic countries where corporations had more influence for example through corruption and political favoritism, the study found.
In 2013, the WHO’s 194 member states endorsed a list of policies to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
The researchers found that on average, only a third of the public health policies had been fully implemented in 2020.
Progress was especially slow in low-income countries and countries with less democracy. At the bottom of the list are three countries in West Africa—Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone—with one to two partially implemented policies.
The researchers found that the positive relationship between democracy on implementation was cancelled out in countries with above-average levels of corporate influence. Corporate influence was measured using an existing index with 25 metrics of corporate power, including corruption, bribery, government official favoritism, foreign investments and foreign contributions to political campaigns. Lobbying was not part of the assessment due to a lack of reliable data for many countries.
“Our analysis shows that corporate political influence is associated with the degree of implementation—the more influence corporations had, the lower the degree of implementation of preventive public health measures,” says Luke Allen, the first author of the study, told KI News. “While we cannot establish causality, our findings indicate that more work is needed to support particularly low-income countries in introducing effective NCD policies, especially around commercial determinants.”