Corporation-induced diseases, upstream epidemiologic surveillance, and urban health

J Urban Health. 2008 Jul;85(4):517-31. doi: 10.1007/s11524-008-9283-x.


Corporation-induced diseases are defined as diseases of consumers, workers, or community residents who have been exposed to disease agents contained in corporate products. To study the epidemiology and to guide expanded surveillance of these diseases, a new analytical framework is proposed. This framework is based on the agent-host-environment model and the upstream multilevel epidemiologic approach and posits an epidemiologic cascade starting with government-sanctioned corporate profit making and ending in a social cost, i.e., harm to population health. Each of the framework's levels addresses a specific level of analysis, including government, corporations, corporate conduits, the environment of the host, and the host. The explained variable at one level is also the explanatory variable at the next lower level. In this way, a causal chain can be followed along the epidemiologic cascade from the site of societal power down to the host. The framework thus describes the pathways by which corporate decisions filter down to disease production in the host and identifies opportunities for epidemiologic surveillance. Since the environment of city dwellers is strongly shaped by corporations that are far upstream and several levels away, the framework has relevance for the study of urban health. Corporations that influence the health of urban populations include developers and financial corporations that determine growth or decay of urban neighborhoods, as well as companies that use strategies based on neighborhood characteristics to sell products that harm consumer health. Epidemiological inquiry and surveillance are necessary at all levels to provide the knowledge needed for action to protect the health of the population. To achieve optimal inquiry and surveillance at the uppermost levels, epidemiologists will have to work with political scientists and other social scientists and to utilize novel sources of information.

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Organizations*
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Urban Health*