Public Health and Obesity: When a Pound of Prevention Really Is Worth an Ounce of Cure

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In this response to Jonny Anomaly’s ‘Is Obesity a Public Health Problem?’ I argue, contra the author that public health actually increases individuals’ abilities to choose actions that further their health goals, specifically in the case of obesity. The intractability of obesity as an individual medical problem combined with the health benefits of modest (5–10 per cent of body weight) weight loss suggest that public health measures helping people make small changes in eating habits improve population health. I argue that such measures are available to public health via behavioral economic research and policy proposals from libertarian paternalists. I respond to author’s claim that obesity does not constitute a public health problem because: (i) it is not an epidemic and (ii) obesity reduction is not a public good. I argue that epidemic status is not required for classification as a public health problem, but that obesity does have the status of an epidemic. I also point out flaws in author’s reasoning about obesity, public health and social costs. I conclude by suggesting that public health, in partnership with stake-holders and other areas of government, is poised to help create conditions for modest weight loss and increased population health overall.

Original Citation

Womack, C.A. (2012). Public Health and Obesity: When a Pound of Prevention Really Is Worth an Ounce of Cure. Public Health Ethics, 5(3), 222-228. https://doi.org/10.1093/phe/phs031