Skip Navigation

Global Obesity Prevention Center

A Global Epidemic

Earth Banner

Obesity is truly a global epidemic, with overweight and obesity afflicting over 1.5 billion people and continuing to spread across countries of all income levels.

Obesity touches every age group - an estimated total of 42 million children younger than 5 are obese or overweight. The psychological, behavioral, social, economic and health effects are far-reaching—including, but not limited to lower self-esteem, decreased quality of life, chronic diseases such as heart conditions, premature death, and higher costs to health care, businesses and many other sectors of society. 


The obesity epidemic is too complex for single, isolated interventions to work. Obesity results from a complex system of policy, economic, environmental, social, behavioral and physiological factors and relationships. Tackling obesity, like any complex global challenge—whether financial, environmental, technological, or health-related—requires innovative solutions that address the whole system, not just pieces of the problem.

Without accounting for the entire system, attempts to address the problem may not work. For instance, changing a person’s diet is difficult without affordable, readily available healthful foods. A person’s peers, school, job and neighborhood, as well as the media and culture, greatly influence eating habits. Moreover, stakeholders such as food manufacturers and suppliers may hesitate to change without proper incentives. In fact, well-meaning efforts may have unintended consequences. For instance, simply promoting vigorous exercise or low-calorie foods can actually lead to greater overall calorie intake.

Combating obesity requires a new way of thinking and an integrated, comprehensive strategy addressing every component of the system causing the problem.

Thus, cooperation and buy-in from all key stakeholders are critical. A given stakeholder may resist change because of concerns about the effects of policies and interventions designed by others on them. Educating stakeholders and providing them with a voice in implementing comprehensive, systems-wide changes is the only approach that can create effective, lasting solutions to this vexing problem. Our overarching goal is to be catalysts for solutions to the, up-till-now, refractory global problem of obesity.