How are frames generated? Insights from the industry lobby against the sugar tax in Ireland

Soc Sci Med. 2020 Nov;264:113215. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113215. Epub 2020 Aug 15.

Abstract

There is a causal link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancers. Despite this, no country in the world has reduced its obesity levels because the factors that drive obesity continue unchanged (Swinburn et al., 2019). One systemic driver is corporate influence on the public policy process. The world's largest food and beverage manufacturers engage public relations firms to create a narrative which speaks of corporate cooperation with public health policy, while simultaneously influencing policy making in ways that are favorable to industry. We sought to examine framing as a key strategy in the corporate political activity of food industry actors attempting to resist the introduction of a public health policy. Specifically, we analyzed industry submissions for an Irish government consultation for the proposed introduction of a sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax in 2018. We describe how a food product like sugar is framed positively by corporate actors who rely on it as their principal ingredient. Sugar is a good focus from a framing perspective because it is currently undergoing recalibration in the public's imagination - from a benign, nourishing treat in its heyday to a dangerous 'substance' that can contribute to premature mortality. Framing is already well established as a corporate political activity (CPA) to influence public policy (Shelton et al., 2017; Nixon et al., 2015; Darmon et al., 2008). Our research expands this understanding by uncovering four underlying mechanisms used to generate frames - dichotomizing, contesting, equating and cropping. Recognizing these mechanisms could help policy makers, public health professionals and business ethicists to deconstruct any given frame that becomes dominant in corporate discourse, such as 'personal responsibility', 'inadequate exercise', 'freedom' and so on. These mechanisms may also apply to other industries such as alcohol, fossil fuels and tobacco, where hazards from interference in public health strategies are a concern.

Keywords: Corporate political activity; Framing; Health related food tax; Sugar sweetened beverages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Food Industry
  • Humans
  • Ireland
  • Lobbying
  • Sugars*
  • Taxes

Substances

  • Sugars