What’s Really Causing the Obesity Epidemic?

November 21, 2012 — In a thoughtful consideration of factors causing America’s obesity epidemic, TEDMED’s Great Challenges program gathered perspectives from leaders in advocacy, academia, and public health who address the problem every day. They present varied perspectives on the top 10 contributing factors to this critical health issue.

TEDMED is a multi-disciplinary community of innovators and leaders who share a common determination to create a better future in health and medicine. Collaborating and communicating online connects people with common goals but varied experiences in a search for the unexpected that inspires new thinking. TEDMED Great Challenges are the 20 great challenges of science and medicine.

A sample of the responses to the top 10 contributing factors to our nation’s struggle with obesity include leaders from the major obesity advocacy and public health organizations. Joe Nadglowski, President of the Obesity Action Coalition, says that a big part of the issue is that we oversimplify the problem. Gaining or losing weight is not just a matter of calories in, calories out, he said, but a matter of what does get consumed, and when.

Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, singled out portion sizes and the easy access to high-fat and sugary foods as causes of obesity, while adding that for many neighborhoods, access to healthy food was also a major barrier.

Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, added agricultural policy, commodities pricing, inactivity, genetics, and the built environment to her broad-view perspective on the issues.  Puhl defines built environment to include physical and social elements that make up the structure of a community, such as buildings, neighborhoods, transportation systems, land use, urban design, zoning restrictions, and other elements of the landscape such as the density of grocery stores or fast food outlets. All of these factors influence obesity.

Click here to see the full responses and comments from the rest of the experts on the Great Challenge of obesity.