Obesities and What to do About Them

Over the last couple of days I have been reading a new 160 page report on “Tackling Obesities: Future Choices” produced by the UK Government’s Foresight Program which is run under the Government Office for Science.

The report was prepared by some 200 experts (mostly from the UK) and ends with several “what if” scenarios that model the outcomes of possible policy decisions.

The first point of note is that the title of the work refers to “Obesities” rather than “Obesity”, thereby formally recognizing that this is a heterogeneous entity and that there are many forms of obesity.

Over all the work is impressive and discusses obesities in all their complexities – the biological and environmental system map is enough to let anyone serious about trying to understand the causes of the epidemic throw up their hands in despair and flee the room.

Nevertheless, the work is useful in that it contains a lot of interesting bits that are “quotable” and deserve discussion.

Sentences like:

The forces that drive obesity are, for many people, overwhelming.”

are notable because they depart from the usual idea that obesity is essentially a consequences of individuals’ choices and decisions and all anyone has to do is to be “smarter” about their health.

This obviously we know is not true – in fact, if, as stated elsewhere in the report,

“People [in the UK] today don’t have less willpower and are not more gluttonous than previous generations.”


“…for an increasing number of people, weight gain is the inevitable – and largely involuntary – consequence of exposure to a modern lifestyle.”

we need to be careful not to blame the victims.

It will rather be changes in social values and the way society as a whole chooses to respond to this epidemic that will make a difference. Amongst the experts, there was clearly no expectation of any spontaneous reversal of obesity trends.

The report is a challenging but fun read. I will probably be posting more on stuff I find in it over the next few weeks.

For those wanting to read the full report, you can download it by clicking here.