From the Executive Director
Obesity has become a truly global problem. No longer is obesity simply a high-income country or adult problem. All ages and nearly all countries are at risk. Today, obesity is starting earlier and earlier in childhood, making the far-reaching psychological, behavioral, social, economic and health effects all the more substantial.
Although many solutions have been offered and tried over the past three decades, none seem to be reversing this global epidemic. In fact, with each passing year, the epidemic continues to spread worldwide, with no clear change in sight. Obviously we need new approaches and strategies.
Clearly the system is broken.
A major challenge is that obesity results from a complex system of policy, economic, environmental, social, behavioral and physiological factors and relationships. Changing only parts of the system may have little effect—or, even worse, unintended consequences. For example, introducing certain exercise programs or diet foods can actually increase caloric consumption. It would be similar to replacing a single small part, when an entire engine is malfunctioning.
We need to fix the system, not just parts of the system.
We need to address this enduring problem. This means figuring out how each factor, component, process and stakeholder fits together and then finding win-win solutions that actually fix the system. A solution won’t work if major stakeholders—such as governments or manufacturers—are not on board.
Think of how so many of the greatest challenges of the past century have been overcome, including space travel, tracking weather systems and connecting the world by communications. These solutions resulted from systems approaches—an understanding of the entire system, leveraging the widest range of expertise available—including disciplines new to addressing the challenge, and key stakeholders working together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
The GOPC takes a systems-oriented approach.
The Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) is at the leading edge of applying systems-oriented approaches to this enduring problem. The GOPC has all the components to do so. Our home base, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a leader in global health with an extensive worldwide network. Our Center includes internationally recognized experts in obesity from the School of Public Health and the School of Medicine, along with experts in other fields and schools across The Johns Hopkins University, such as engineering and computer science—disciplines that have not traditionally been involved in obesity. Through such a mind-meld, innovative state-of-the art solutions emerge.
The GOPC aims to take a global approach to the obesity epidemic. Communities, cities and countries are increasingly interconnected via food systems, businesses, transportation, media and the internet. Any factor, change, policy or intervention within one portion of society can have world-wide reverberations. Tackling such a far-reaching challenge requires communities, countries and stakeholders to cooperate and learn from each other. With that in mind, the GOPC unites experts, stakeholders and projects from around the world to develop and implement innovative, organized systems strategies to control obesity on a global level.
Uniting discovery, education and action is crucial.
We believe that developing potential solutions requires working closely with those implementing the solutions. With that in mind, research, education, policy and action cannot be separate enterprises. The GOPC seeks to bridge the gap among these activities through key partnerships and activities. We hope you’ll join us as we tackle obesity—and the systems creating it.
Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA