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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard Finds Global Failure to Reverse Obesity Epidemic Demands New Ways of Thinking

To combat the failure of countries to reverse the global obesity epidemic, authors of a new paper are calling for “smart food policies” by governments, alongside joint efforts from industry and society, to improve food environments and make healthy eating easier.

Lead author Dr. Christina Roberto, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues call the view that obesity is driven by either personal choice or the environment a false dichotomy, and suggest that these competing perspectives be merged to show the reciprocal relationship between the individual person and the places where they live and eat.

The paper is one of a six-part series on obesity in The Lancet, published online February 18.

Global progress towards tackling obesity has been “unacceptably slow,” according to the series authors, with only one in four countries implementing a policy on healthy eating by 2010.

“While we need to acknowledge that individuals bear some responsibility for their health, we also need to recognize that today’s food environments exploit people’s vulnerabilities and make it easier to eat unhealthy foods,” said Dr. Roberto. “This reinforces preferences and demands for foods of poor nutritional quality, leading to environmental changes that further encourage consumption of unhealthy foods.”

Although there have been isolated pockets of progress, no country to date has reversed its obesity epidemic, according to Dr. Roberto and colleagues. Among the barriers to action are lobbying from the food industry, restricted ability or unwillingness of governments to implement policies, and an absence of pressure from civil society for political action. Read more