Cookie Cutter Obesity Solutions from Smoking

Obesity solutions that borrow on strategies from smoking control are surfacing again. The National Obesity Forum in the U.K. advocates for doing just this in their recently published “State of the Nation’s Waistline” report. They say that current efforts to promote healthy lifestyles “cannot be expected to alter the public situation on their own, despite their merits. Harder hitting campaigns, similar to those for anti-smoking, are required.”

Dan Gilmore, emeritus president of the Hastings Institute in the U.S., explained some of the thinking behind this sort of approach, saying that “Somewhere along the line, people said, ‘Would you please go outside and smoke,’ or, ‘I’ve got an allergy to smoking.’ You started to feel societal pressure.” He goes on to say that regarding obesity, “the public has not as thoroughly been terrorised.”

The logical gap here is the notion that obesity is a problem simply because people do not yet care enough about shedding or avoiding excess weight. Rebecca Puhl, Deputy Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, offers wise perspective:

Campaigns that focus primarily on body weight, or the number on the scale, or used hard-hitting controversial approaches to get attention were messages that tended to blame or stigmatise people for their weight. Those were not found to be effective. People are more responsive to campaigns that address specific health behaviour that people can engage in regardless of their body type.

Much of the flawed logic that equates smoking with obesity ignores a key fact. Smoking is a simple, nonessential behavior and obesity is not. Obesity is a complex, chronic condition than comes in many forms with many different causes. One-size-fits-all solutions have been proven over and over again to be ineffective and counterproductive.

The National Obesity Forum is wise to call for a more vigorous approach to treat and prevent obesity. But the efforts must be grounded in research and evidence for what works.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

Click here to read more from BBC and click here to read the report from the National Obesity Forum.

Army of Cookie Cutters, photograph © Pekka Nikrus / flickr

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