Developing national obesity policy in middle-income countries: a case study from North Africa

Health Policy Plan. 2013 Dec;28(8):858-70. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czs125. Epub 2012 Dec 10.


Background: The prevalence of overweight and obesity is a rapidly growing threat to public health in both Morocco and Tunisia, where it is reaching similar proportions to high-income countries. Despite this, a national strategy for obesity does not exist in either country. The aim of this study was to explore the views of key stakeholders towards a range of policies to prevent obesity, and thus guide policy makers in their decision making on a national level.

Methods: Using Multicriteria Mapping, data were gathered from 82 stakeholders (from 33 categories in Morocco and 36 in Tunisia) who appraised 12 obesity policy options by reference to criteria of their own choosing.

Results: The feasibility of policies in practical or political terms and their cost were perceived as more important than how effective they would be in reducing obesity. There was most consensus and preference for options targeting individuals through health education, compared with options that aimed at changing the environment, i.e. modifying food supply and demand (providing healthier menus/changing food composition/food sold in schools); controlling information (advertising controls/mandatory labelling) or improving access to physical activity. In Tunisia, there was almost universal consensus that at least some environmental-level options are required, but in Morocco, participants highlighted the need to raise awareness within the population and policy makers that obesity is a public health problem, accompanied by improving literacy before such measures would be accepted.

Conclusion: Whilst there is broad interest in a range of policy options, those measures targeting behaviour change through education were most valued. The different socioeconomic, political and cultural contexts of countries need to be accounted for when prioritizing obesity policy. Obesity was not recognized as a major public health priority; therefore, convincing policy makers about the need to prioritize action to prevent obesity, particularly in Morocco, will be a crucial first step.

Keywords: Africa; Obesity; decision making; policy; policy makers; stakeholders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel
  • Developing Countries*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Morocco
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Policy Making*
  • Tunisia