April 16, 2012

Is there hope for a thinner future?

There is not much progress made in combatting the overweight and obesity epidemic. That is a conclusion drawn in a recent paper of the prominent researchers Peter Herman and Janet Polivy'Self-regulation and the obesity epidemic' (Social Issues and Policy Review).  I found it an inspiring paper. Both authors are highly influential and experienced in the field of experimental psychology of eating behaviour and obesity. Because of their outstanding track record, I recommend reading their paper and think about it. Their take home message is not a positive one, however.   
Picture: Rudd Center Image Gallery

The basic premise of the article of Herman and Polivy is that researchers should be sceptical about interventions, both at the individual and societal level. They state that many researchers suggest that progress is being made or just around the corner. But actually, this is not true. Their review of the literature coupled with the decades of  professional experience made them conclude the following: ‘Scrutiny of the statistics, however, suggest that not much progress has been made so far in combatting the problem; in fact, it is probably easier to make the case that things are continuing to get worse’.

The best interventions at an individual level (e.g. clinical interventions) are expensive or impossible to implement on a community-wide basis. Although the authors agree with many scientists that interventions at a societal level (e.g. reshaping of the environment) are needed, they are not optimistic. Basically, many ideas for interventions will not work or even backfire, they argue.

Obesity is a very serious problem. Herman and Polivy stress that it not ok to implement unproven interventions. They warn that scientists should be cautious about applying solutions that turn out to be ineffective as the little trust that the public has in social scientists should not be destroyed.

What do you think? Is there really not much progress made? Is there hope for a thinner future?

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