Using System Dynamics to Understand Transnational Corporate Power in Diet-Related Non-communicable Disease Prevention Policy-Making: A Case Study of South Africa

Document Type : Original Article


1 Department of Global Health and Development, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

2 RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, USA

3 College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK


Complex interactions between political economy factors and corporate power are increasingly recognized to prevent transformative policy action on non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention. System science offers promising methods for analysing such causal complexity. This study uses qualitative system dynamics methods to map the political economy of diet-related NCD (DR-NCD) prevention policy-making aiming to better understand the policy inertia observed in this area globally.

We interviewed 25 key policy actors. We analysed the interviews using purposive text analysis (PTA). We developed individual then combined casual loop diagrams to generate a shared model representing the DR-NCD prevention policy-making system. Key variables/linkages identified from the literature were also included in the model. We validated the model in several steps including through stakeholder validation interviews.

We identified several inter-linked feedback processes related to political economy factors that may entrench different forms of corporate power (instrumental, structural, and discursive) in DR-NCD prevention policy-making in South Africa over time. We also identified a number of feedback processes that have the potential to limit corporate power in this setting.

Using complex system methods can be useful for more deeply understanding DR-NCD policy inertia. It is also useful for identifying potential leverage points within the system which may shift the existing power dynamics to facilitate greater political commitment for healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system transformation.


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Articles in Press, Corrected Proof
Available Online from 02 September 2023
  • Receive Date: 23 August 2022
  • Revise Date: 06 February 2023
  • Accept Date: 30 August 2023
  • First Publish Date: 02 September 2023