Where Next for Obesity?

Obesity 1

Energy balance appears pretty straightforward—calories in versus calories out. Yet in practice it’s more involved and easier for people to gain weight than to lose it. Changing the environments in which people make choices that favor weight loss over weight gain will be more effective than exhorting individuals to make better choices.

Obesity, this author posits, is a complex issue, not a merely complicated one. Complicated systems contain multiple elements that are knowable and predictable. A complex system, however, is non-linear with unexpected and unintended consequences.

The world of scientific research favors a narrow focus, the clinician promotes clinical solutions, the nutritionist dietary ones. But complex issues such as obesity require a broader approach to understand how the parts fit together and affect one another—to see the system as a whole.

“Tackling obesity demands an approach that does not merely coordinate the discrete actions of a huge number of individuals, organizations, and sectors,” this author writes. “Those actions need to be integrated, their unintended consequences understood, corrective actions undertaken, ineffective interventions stopped, and effective ones continuously tweaked and improved. We need to move from small steps and single solutions to ‘big thinking, many changes,’ taking a broad ecological approach.”