Solution-Oriented Research

Recent projections estimate that by 2030, 51 percent of adults and 30 percent of youth will be obese; this figure does not include overweight individuals. Costs associated with these conditions will reach about $900 billion per year; 16–18 percent of U.S. health care expenditures. The author, Terry Huang, explains why efforts to promote environmental sustainability and efforts to combat obesity should be convergent. By creating a common communication strategy that dovetails the messages and efforts of both the sustainability and the anti-obesity movements, resources can be best utilized and the public's attention will be focused rather than divided. A coherent communication strategy at the national level is necessary to achieve this goal, however.

This paper describes six strategies to address the complex issues of sustainability and  obesity prevention: framing obesity as a complex systems issue; emphasizing cross- disciplinary hypotheses from the outset of research; testing and evaluating upstream interventions; increasing capacity by building coalitions; developing and applying system-science methodologies to obesity issues; and cultivating a global perspective. The paper offers specific suggestions and examples of how to incorporate these strategies into solutions, such as the possibility of structuring reform through the Farm Bill coming due in 2013. Current agricultural policies contribute to both environmental harm and obesity issues by promoting corn growth, high-fructose corn syrup production, and meat consumption. Other examples include promotion of local organic farming, and the creation of multidisciplinary public-private research collaborations targeting these issues, such as the Environmental Systems of Public Health initiative, a group that includes various levels of state and federal government agencies, as well as private foundations. The need to maintain a global perspective is paramount, as both environmental sustainability and obesity are global problems. Globalization has made issues related to energy use and agricultural policies international issues that cannot be addressed adequately without taking into consideration experiences and developments occurring around the world.