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Description: Consider this general statistic: in the years between 1975 and 2016 the rate of obesity globally has almost doubled. Why might this be? Without doing any online digging, just think about what you have heard and about what you know about factors that contribute to obesity and about how these factors have increased, multiplied, or otherwise changed since 1975. There are metabolic factors, there are lifestyle factors, there are nutritional (choice) factors, and many many other factors. A lot of contributing factors. Now think about what obese people should or need to do to drop weight. Yes, I know there are literally mountains of books, websites, videos and other media out there that are telling obese people what they should be doing but what do you think? More specifically, what types of possible solutions come to mind? One more thing, given the mountain of advice around us why does the rate of obesity seem to be continuing an upward climb rather than diminishing in light of all that weight loss advice? OK, so, how many of your thoughts regarding these last few questions involve versions of things like, obese people need to eat less, exercise more, do things to change their metabolism, build their will power, try harder, stop doing self-defeating things? These are, for the most part, individually focused ‘solutions’ that mostly boil down to versions of “it is their fault” (personal failing) statements regarding obesity. But what if that is the wrong way to look at this issue, think about this issue, and most importantly, deal with this issue? Have a read through the article linked below to explore this line of theory and research.

Source: Scientists Can’t Agree on What Causes Obesity, but Thery Know What Doesn’t, Julia Belluz, The New York Times.

Date: November 21, 2022

Image by  cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, do you agree with the Times of London and Bill Maher (whose work as a comedian I quite like despite his views on responsibilities for obesity) that obese people deserve to be shamed and even that shaming could be seen as a viable approach to addressing the doubling of the global obesity rate? Generally and in a lot of psychology theory and research we tend to think in terms of individual causes, reasons and fixes for problematic behavior and problematic outcomes. It sort of makes sense that as individuals, concerned about our individual wellbeing and outcomes that we would have a sort of bias towards individual-focus on problems and on route to improvement of health and wellbeing. The problem is that in terms of things like obesity and many other things like addiction we seem inclined to the routes to recovery and wellbeing grounded in individual choice, willpower and actions do not seem to work and, often make things worse (e.g., fat shaming). So, what else should we consider? Now THERE is an important research question!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some factors that may have contributed to the doubling of the global obesity rate between 1975 and 2016?
  2. What sorts of weight loss strategies or interventions have been proposed to address the factors you noted in response to the previous question, and have they worked?
  3. What are some examples of less individually focused possible approaches to addressing current obesity rates and how might they be implemented?

References (Read Further):

Swinburn, B. A., Kraak, V. I., Allender, S., Atkins, V. J., Baker, P. I., Bogard, J. R., … & Dietz, W. H. (2019). The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change: the Lancet Commission report. The lancet, 393(10173), 791-846. Link

Jaacks, L. M., Vandevijvere, S., Pan, A., McGowan, C. J., Wallace, C., Imamura, F., … & Ezzati, M. (2019). The obesity transition: stages of the global epidemic. The lancet Diabetes & endocrinology, 7(3), 231-240. Link

Baker, P., Machado, P., Santos, T., Sievert, K., Backholer, K., Hadjikakou, M., … & Lawrence, M. (2020). Ultra‐processed foods and the nutrition transition: Global, regional and national trends, food systems transformations and political economy drivers. Obesity Reviews, 21(12), e13126. Link

Puhl, R. M., Himmelstein, M. S., & Pearl, R. L. (2020). Weight stigma as a psychosocial contributor to obesity. American Psychologist, 75(2), 274. Link

Adams, J., Mytton, O., White, M., & Monsivais, P. (2016). Why are some population interventions for diet and obesity more equitable and effective than others? The role of individual agency. PLoS medicine, 13(4), e1001990. Link

Liu, Z., Xu, H. M., Wen, L. M., Peng, Y. Z., Lin, L. Z., Zhou, S., … & Wang, H. J. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the overall effects of school-based obesity prevention interventions and effect differences by intervention components. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16(1), 1-12. Link