May 14, 2011
The six reasons why overweight is a wicked problem
Reason 3: Solutions are not right or wrong. All involved stakeholders (such as food companies, authorities, consumers, health professionals) have an opinion about the problem and often disagree. For example, last week we had the No Diet Day (or 'Anti-Diet-day' in the Netherlands). Although the day aims at body weight acceptance, it led to debates about the usefulness of particular diets and the risks of overweight.
Reason 4: Each wicked problem is unique and new. The involved actors and concrete situations are different. The causes and potential solutions are similarly not the same for different groups of overweight individuals.
Reason 5: There is no room to experiment. It is impossible to check beforehand whether a particular solution will be effective. Essentially, it is often a matter of critically informed trial and error.
Reason 6: There is no clear set of solutions and there can be many solutions or only one. Solutions are hard to find. As a result, Seidell argues that the overweight and obesity problem requires a holistic solution. For example, schools, food industry, health authorities and consumers should work together in exploring solutions that seem promising. After all, there is a lot at stake: overweight is not just a medical problem, but also a social one.
Trish Groves likewise argues in the British Medical Journal that obesity seems to be the classic example of a wicked problem. Consequently, we need more innovative and collaborative approaches. I completely agree. Acknowledging that overweight is a wicked problem might help getting a more realistic overview of the problem instead of over-simplistic and one-sided analyses and claims for solutions. It also shows that as researchers we should look across the boundaries of traditional research fields and become more creative in contributing to the search for solutions.