Conceptualizing the commercial determinants of dietary behaviors associated with obesity: a systematic review using principles from critical interpretative synthesis

Yanaina Chavez Ugalde*, Russell Jago, Zoi Toumpakari, Matt Egan, Steven Cummins, Martin White, Paige M Hulls, Frank de Vocht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Introduction: Unhealthy diet is an important preventable risk factor for overweight and obesity. Identifying the key drivers of an unhealthy diet is an important public health aim. “Big Food” has been identified as an influential factor shaping dietary behaviour and obesity, and their practices have broadly been labelled as the “commercial determinants of obesity” but there is a lack of definitions and conceptualisations for these terms. This review aimed to synthesise literature on the commercial determinants of dietary behaviour associated with obesity. It presents the development of an integrative definition and a conceptual framework involving potential influences on dietary behaviour and it examines the prevalence of certain narratives within papers that focus on children and adolescents.
Methods: Four electronic databases (Ovid MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus) were searched up to December 2020. 81 articles met the inclusion criteria: they were published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, described a practice from the food/beverage industry in relation to dietary behaviour or obesity. Data were integrated using critical interpretative synthesis.
Results: The commercial determinants of dietary behaviour are conceptualised in terms of three corporate spheres of action – political and legal; production, processing and design; and marketing and preference shaping – which enable powerful food industry to successfully pursue their business, market and political objectives. The most frequently reported sphere of action targeting children and adolescents was marketing and preference shaping.
Conclusions: In the included literature, the commercial determinants of dietary behaviour associated with obesity have been conceptualised as being part of a complex system where corporate practices are enabled by power structures. The proposed framework can facilitate a structured identification and systematic study of the impact of specific aspects of food industry’s strategies and increase opportunities for primary prevention by anticipating industry responses and by discouraging corporate practices that harm health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473-486
Number of pages14
JournalObesity Science & Practice
Issue number4
Early online date5 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Sarah Herring, subject librarian for Population Health Sciences at University of Bristol for her contribution in developing the search strategy for this review. This study was part of a PhD studentship funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (Grant Reference Number PD-SPH-2015). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funder had no input in the writing of the manuscript or decision to submit for publication. The NIHR School for Public Health Research is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield; Bristol; Cambridge; Imperial; and University College London; The London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; LiLaC?a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool and Lancaster; and Fuse?The Centre for Translational Research in Public Health a collaboration between Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside Universities. Frank De Vocht and Russell Jago are partly funded by the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol. Yanaina Chavez-Ugalde is co-funded by CoNaCyT (National Council for Science and Technology, Mexico). Yanaina Chavez-Ugalde reports grants from NIHR, grants from CONACyT, during the conduct of the study; Russell Jago reports grants from NIHR, during the conduct of the study; Zoi Toumpakari has nothing to disclose; Matt Egan has nothing to disclose; Steven Cummins has nothing to disclose; Martin White has nothing to disclose; Paige Hulls has nothing to disclose; Frank De Vocht reports grants from NIHR SPHR, during the conduct of the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Obesity Science & Practice published by World Obesity and The Obesity Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Structured keywords

  • SPS Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences
  • Commercial determinants of obesity
  • dietary behaviour
  • food industry
  • public health


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