The politics of obesity: a current assessment and look ahead

Milbank Q. 2009 Mar;87(1):295-316. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00556.x.


Context: The continuing rise in obesity rates across the United States has proved impervious to clinical treatment or public health exhortation, necessitating policy responses. Nearly a decade's worth of political debates may be hardening into an obesity issue regime, comprising established sets of cognitive frames, stakeholders, and policy options.

Methods: This article is a survey of reports on recently published studies.

Findings: Much of the political discussion regarding obesity is centered on two "frames," personal-responsibility and environmental, yielding very different sets of policy responses. While policy efforts at the federal level have resulted in little action to date, state and/or local solutions such as calorie menu labeling and the expansion of regulations to reduce unhealthy foods at school may have more impact.

Conclusions: Obesity politics is evolving toward a relatively stable state of equilibrium, which could make comprehensive reforms to limit rising obesity rates less feasible. Therefore, to achieve meaningful change, rapid-response research identifying a set of promising reforms, combined with concerted lobbying action, will be necessary.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Energy Intake*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Nutritive Value
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Politics*
  • School Health Services*
  • Social Marketing*
  • United States / epidemiology