Cars, corporations, and commodities: Consequences for the social determinants of health


Woodcock, James and Aldred, Rachel 2008. Cars, corporations, and commodities: Consequences for the social determinants of health. Emerging Themes in Epidemiology.
AuthorsWoodcock, James and Aldred, Rachel

Social epidemiologists have drawn attention to health inequalities as avoidable and inequitable, encouraging thinking beyond proximal risk factors to the causes of the causes. However, key debates remain unresolved including the contribution of material and psychosocial pathways to health inequalities. Tools to operationalise social factors have not developed in tandem with conceptual frameworks, and research has often remained focused on the disadvantaged rather than on forces shaping population health across the distribution. Using the example of transport, we argue that closer attention to social processes (capital accumulation and motorisation) and social forms (commodity, corporation, and car) offers a way forward. Corporations tied to the car, primarily oil and vehicle manufacturers, are central to the world economy. Key drivers in establishing this hegemony are the threat of violence from motor vehicles and the creation of distance through the restructuring of place. Transport matters for epidemiology because the growth of mass car ownership is environmentally unsustainable and affects population health through a myriad of pathways. Starting from social forms and processes, rather than their embodiment as individual health outcomes and inequalities, makes visible connections between road traffic injuries, obesity, climate change, underdevelopment of oil producing countries, and the huge opportunity cost of the car economy. Methodological implications include a movement-based understanding of how place affects health and a process-orientated integration of material and psychosocial explanations that, while materially based, contests assumptions of automatic benefits from economic growth. Finally, we identify car and oil corporations as anti-health forces and suggest collaboration with them creates conflicts of interest.

Keywordshealth inequalities; epidemiology; psychosocial; transport; corporations; car; motor vehicles; oil; environment; health; obesity; climate change
JournalEmerging Themes in Epidemiology
Publisher's version
Web address (URL)
Publication dates
Print21 Feb 2008
Publication process dates
Deposited28 May 2009
Additional information

Woodcock,J., Aldred, R., (2008) 'Cars, corporations, and commodities: Consequences for the social determinants of health' Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 5:4.

Permalink -

Download files

  • 101
    total views
  • 170
    total downloads
  • 3
    views this month
  • 3
    downloads this month

Export as