Intended for healthcare professionals


The hidden power of corporations

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 09 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l4

Health, wealth, and profits

Click here to read the complete collection

  1. Martin McKee, professor of European public health1,
  2. Sarah Steele, senior research associate2,
  3. David Stuckler, professor of policy analysis and public management3
  1. 1Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3Dondena Research Centre and Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, University of Bocconi, Milan, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee martin.mckee{at}

A lesson from China

Mao Zedong famously said that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”1 As he was someone who looked to the Russian Revolution for inspiration while engaged in a war to liberate his country from Japanese occupation, his view was understandable. Yet power can be exerted in different ways and can be most effective when it is hidden, with decisions made behind closed doors, or even invisible, so that the decisions one person makes are influenced by another without them realising it.2

The growing literature on what are termed “the commercial determinants of health” pays particular attention to the hidden and invisible forms of power, whereby large corporations use various methods to shape thinking about what are appropriate responses to the health consequences of their products.3 In the accompanying article, Susan Greenhalgh describes how the Coca-Cola Company came to dominate obesity policy in China even though its influence was obscured behind the public face of intermediaries (doi:10.1136/bmj.k5050).4

Changing the conversation

In the late 1970s, Coca-Cola took advantage of the opening of …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription