Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Reimagining Product Regulation by Quantifying the Economic Externalities of Commercial Influences on Health Behaviors

Sara J. Singer, MBA, PhD | Stanford University School of Medicine; Stephen J. Downs, SM | Building H
Competition Sponsor: US National Academy of Medicine
Awardee Year: 2023


The “product environment,” the collection of products and services people use in everyday life, from industries such as entertainment, food, technology and transportation, is a major driver of the chronic disease epidemic in the United States. Its impact dwarfs efforts to reduce chronic disease through medical treatment or programs aimed at individual behavior change.
This impact represents an economic externality – a social cost external to the market, that, if properly captured within our economic system, could ultimately transform the product environment to become more supportive of health. This project will demonstrate the feasibility of identifying population health impacts of individual consumer products and services, estimating societal costs of those impacts, and applying those estimates to financial reporting documents. It will build on two pioneering efforts: the Building H Index, which has assessed the impacts that popular products and services have on five key health behaviors, and the Impact-Weighted Accounts project at Harvard Business School, which has developed an approach for creating financial accounting reports that measure and value in monetary terms the impact a company has on its employees, customers, and the environment. The project will serve as a proof-of-concept for a new paradigm for product regulation – in which businesses are held accountable for the influences that products have on people’s health behaviors.

Sign up for updates