The ineffectiveness and unintended consequences of the public health war on obesity

Can J Public Health. 2015 Feb 3;106(2):e79-81. doi: 10.17269/cjph.106.4757.


The public health war on obesity has had little impact on obesity prevalence and has resulted in unintended consequences. Its ineffectiveness has been attributed to: 1) heavy focus on individual-based approaches and lack of scaled-up socio-environmental policies and programs, 2) modest effects of interventions in reducing and preventing obesity at the population level, and 3) inappropriate focus on weight rather than health. An unintended consequence of these policies and programs is excessive weight preoccupation among the population, which can lead to stigma, body dissatisfaction, dieting, disordered eating, and even death from effects of extreme dieting, anorexia, and obesity surgery complications, or from suicide that results from weight-based bullying. Future public health approaches should: a) avoid simplistic obesity messages that focus solely on individuals' responsibility for weight and health, b) focus on health outcomes rather than weight control, and c) address the complexity of obesity and target both individual-level and system-level determinants of health.

Keywords: Obesity; public health; stigma; weight bias.

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia / mortality
  • Bariatric Surgery / mortality
  • Body Image / psychology
  • Bullying / psychology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Diet / mortality
  • Diet / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Program Evaluation
  • Stereotyping
  • Suicide