In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public-Private Partnerships to Prevent and Manage Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Planning
  • Basics of Public-Private Partnerships
  • Responsibility
  • Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning
  • Risks, Conflicts of Interest, and Accountability
  • Rationales for Partnering
  • Real-World Examples

Public Health Public-Private Partnerships to Prevent and Manage Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases
Diane T. Finegood, Lee M. Johnston, Suzanne Vander Wekken
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0184


Obesity is a risk factor for three of the leading chronic or noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide and has been identified by the World Health Organization as a significant global health concern. Addressing this problem will require many coordinated actions to change unhealthy behaviors and environments. Efforts have focused on shifting populations from calorie-dense and nutrient-poor diets to nutrient-dense diets and creating active living environments that discourage sedentary activities. Public-private partnerships (broadly defined here as arrangements between the public and private sectors to share resources in pursuit of a common goal) have been identified as a means by which progress can be made on these fronts. However, the terms by which public health stakeholders should engage with private industry in seeking solutions are contested, particularly in regard to partnerships between nonprofit entities and the food industry. There are two prevailing views about the purpose and viability of partnerships. First is the view that the food industry is primarily at fault for the obesity crisis through its marketing of high-calorie, nutrient-poor food products, particularly to vulnerable populations such as children and low-income groups. The legacy of the tobacco industry’s response to public health measures has fostered distrust of industry practice, causing some to believe that the food industry similarly needs to be regulated by governments to protect the wellbeing of the public. The second stream of thought emphasizes personal responsibility on the part of the consumer, while suggesting that a collaborative approach to solution making between industry and public health will prove the most successful means of moving forward. To this end, there are several examples of the food industry pledging to reformulate products to improve nutrient profiles, increasing industry self-regulation through the responsible marketing of food products to children, improving nutritional labeling, and providing nutrition information to inform consumers’ choices. Critics view these moves as attempts to preempt legislative or regulatory action and perceive partnerships as part of an overarching agenda to garner good will and distract the public from necessary government intervention. Where the act of partnering is accepted, tensions may still arise based on an established division of roles, responsibilities, governance structures, and accountability mechanisms. This bibliography introduces core concepts in thinking about public-private partnerships to promote health and to address obesity and NCD prevention and management, and the debates they engender.

Introductory Works

In order to understand the significance of early-21st-century debates regarding public-private partnerships between the food industry and public health, it helps to place them in the context of chronic disease and obesity prevention practice. Stuckler and Siegel 2011 provides an in-depth introduction to chronic disease, including reviews of relevant political and epidemiological information. Much of the content here is relevant to obesity and its associated risk factors, and chapter 6 zeroes in on the issue of partnering with industry with accounts presented from leading proponents and opponents of the practice. Bauer, et al. 2010 presents a business case for multisectoral engagement on chronic health concerns, framed for presentation to G20 leaders by the International Business Leaders Forum. The theme of requisite all-of-society responses to complex public health problems is also represented in the authors’ call (in Kraak and Story 2010) for partnerships to address childhood obesity globally. They present the benefits available to public health in terms of financial and other resources, and include a chart identifying examples of international public-private partnerships that have already been implemented. Hawkes and Buse 2011 presents a more critical take on public health’s acceptance of loosely defined “partnerships” with industry, which she argues do not match requisite criteria of mutual sharing of benefits. She calls for a more precise use of the term “partnership” moving forward and a more considered entry into these relationships on the part of public health.

  • Bauer, Kathrin, Olive Boles, and Darian Stibbe. 2010. An “all-of-society” approach involving business in tackling the rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Update 2010, 137–148. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.

    Presents a business case for industry’s role in creating win-win intersectoral partnerships to address noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) globally. The food industry is identified as one of several businesses with a stake in the issue. Contains a framework for business engagement and notes risks and challenges from the point of view of industry.

  • Hawkes, Corinna, and Kent Buse. 2011. Public health sector and food industry interaction: It’s time to clarify the term “partnership” and be honest about underlying interests. European Journal of Public Health 21.4: 400–401.

    DOI: 10.1093/eurpub/ckr077

    Recaps popular rationales for partnering between public health and industry, and calls for public health officials to have a clear understanding of their own objectives and alignment with the private sector before engaging with them.

  • Kraak, Vivica I., and Mary Story. 2010. A public health perspective on healthy lifestyles and public-private partnerships for global childhood obesity prevention. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.2: 192–200.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.10.036

    Introduces common arguments put forth by public health in support of public-private partnerships. Includes a framework for assessing the compatibility of partnerships and for evaluating ongoing relationships. International in perspective, acknowledges the challenge of promoting healthy lifestyles in areas with the double burden of nutrition.

  • Stuckler, David, and Karen Siegel, eds. 2011. Sick societies: Responding to the global challenge of chronic disease. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574407.001.0001

    Substantial overview of the challenge of chronic disease with content relevant to obesity and health promotion, addressing lifestyle risk factors. Chapter 6, “Activities of the Private Sector,” singles out the food industry for discussion, presenting arguments for and against engagement.

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