Policies for Healthier Communities

Historical, Legal, and Practical Elements of the Obesity Prevention Movement

As the United States faces an unprecedented obesity epidemic, policy strategies play an important role in reversing the epidemic and improving the nation’s health. This article argues that interventions must be targeted population-wide in places where people live, work, and play; and that policy impacting social and environmental factors is an important part of the obesity prevention movement.

This article examines the history of the obesity prevention movement, noting that the movement requires a social norm change approach—creating an environment where harmful conduct becomes less and less acceptable and desirable, and healthful conduct becomes the norm. Government at the federal, state, and local level has an important role in this comprehensive social norm change movement, positively influencing obesity prevention policy. The most promising obesity prevention policies are often aimed at: 1) making buying, cooking, or growing healthy food easier; 2) making unhealthy foods and beverages less desirable and accessible; or 3) making physical activity more attainable.

The most promising state and local obesity prevention policies often are:

  • policies, not programs
  • evidence-based or evidence-generating
  • legally feasible
  • financially viable
  • responsive to health inequities
  • practical to implement and enforce
  • targeted at changing social norms
  • part of a bigger plan