“Obesity is the result of normal people responding normally to an abnormal environment.” — Boyd Swinburn, obesity researcher.
There is significant evidence to support environmental causes of obesity, and still the majority of Americans see obesity as a moral failure, a lack of control or a lack of personal responsibility. From this flawed viewpoint, obesity is only an individual problem, not a societal problem. For the past 30 years, we have minimized and ignored the external factors that affect our decisions about what we eat and how we move our bodies. We have focused on individual behavior change and have had no impact on the obesity epidemic.
The more helpful and more interesting question is what influences us as a population to consume more than we need and how can we change it?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) set out to answer this question, and in May released a bold report titled: Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation and the accompanying HBO series, “The Weight of the Nation” (well worth watching). The committee developed real strategies to reverse the obesity epidemic over the next 10 years. They defined the problem and arrived at solutions by looking at the whole picture; they considered context, connections, and relationships. The chairman, Daniel Glickman, notes in the preface, “I have become convinced through this process that the health of the nation and its children is inextricably linked to a complex web of influences on physical activity and diet.”
The recommendations call for: … “major reforms in access to and opportunities for physical activity; widespread reductions in the availability of unhealthy food and beverage options and increased access to healthier options at affordable, competitive prices; an overhaul of messages that surround Americans (through marketing and education) with respect to physical activity and food consumption; expansion of the obesity prevention support structure provided by health care providers, insurers, and employers that interfaces with the U.S. population in every workplace and health care setting; and schools being made a major national focal point for obesity prevention.”
This is a collective, large-scale, transformative systems approach to change the obesogenic environment. It is our next best step. We can create routine environments that promote healthy weight. We can stack the deck in our favor for the common good.