Are Americans Ready to Solve the Weight of the Nation?

Two-thirds of U.S. adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has called for accelerating change to reverse the epidemic by using a multifaceted systems approach and “shared responsibility.” In its May 2012 report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation, the IOM presents evidence that the epidemic “has been driven by a complex interaction of changing factors in several critical environments—our schools, workplaces, communities, media, and food and beverage systems—rather than by individual choices.”

The public, however, does not share that view. According to public opinion surveys, most Americans (64%) attribute childhood obesity to personal factors such as overeating, lack of exercise, and watching too much television. Fewer (18%) say external factors—such as exposure to junk foods, limited access to healthy foods in some neighborhoods, and safe places for kids to play—are to blame for childhood obesity.

The authors of this commentary point out that while obesity prevention social marketing is needed, at the same time, care should be taken not to stigmatize obese people and risk increased feelings of shame felt particularly by obese children.

Public awareness of the problem alone, however, will not catalyze change. They believe that evidence-based communication campaigns, grassroots advocacy, and a favorable political environment are necessary to realize the IOM’s “clear and compelling vision for accelerating change on obesity prevention.”

Watch the HBO Series: The Weight of the Nation