Power and Other Commercial Determinants of Health: An Empirical Study of the Australian Food, Alcohol, and Gambling Industries

Document Type : Original Article


1 Department of Public Health, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

2 School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

3 School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia


Commercial determinants of health (CDoH) represent a critical frame for exploring undue corporate and commercial influence over health. Power lenses are integral to understanding CDoH. Impacts of food, alcohol, and gambling industries are observable CDoH outcomes. This study aims to inform understanding of the systems and institutions of commercial and/or corporate forces working within the Australian food, alcohol, and gambling industries that influence health and well-being, including broader discourses materialised via these systems and institutions.

Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with key-informants on Australian public policy processes. Interviewees were current and former politicians, political staff members, regulators and other public servants, industry representatives, lobbyists, journalists, and researchers with expertise and experience of the Australian food, alcohol, and/or gambling industries. Interviews sought participants’ perceptions of Australian food, alcohol, and gambling industries’ similarities and differences, power and influence, relationships, and intervention opportunities and needs.

Strategies and tactics used by Australian food, alcohol and gambling industries are similar, and similar to those of the tobacco industry. They wield considerable soft (eg, persuasive, preference-shaping) and hard (eg, coercive, political, and legal/economic) power. Perceptions of this power differed considerably according to participants’ backgrounds. Participants framed their understanding of necessary interventions using orthodox neoliberal discourses, including limiting the role of government, emphasising education, consumer freedom, and personal choice.

Food, alcohol, and gambling industries exercise powerful influences in Australian public policy processes, affecting population health and well-being. Per Wood and colleagues’ framework, these manifest corporate, social, and ecological outcomes, and represent considerable instrumental, structural, and discursive power. We identify power as arising from discourse and material resources alike, along with relationships and complex industry networks. Addressing power is essential for reducing CDoH harms. Disrupting orthodox discourses and ideologies underpinning this should be a core focus of public health (PH) advocates and researchers alike.


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  • Receive Date: 03 October 2022
  • Revise Date: 28 February 2023
  • Accept Date: 19 April 2023
  • First Publish Date: 19 April 2023