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Global Obesity Prevention Center

The Systems Approach



The global obesity epidemic can’t be explained as a result of a single cause or factor. It can’t be tackled with one intervention. A systems approach looks at problems like obesity from a multi-scale perspective that incorporates a complex network of factors and interactions. In the case of obesity, policy, economics, environment, social influences, behavior and physiology all play a part. Systems science has been successfully used to transform all of our lives. It allowed us to connect the world by air travel and revolutionize manufacturing and agriculture production. It was instrumental in the establishment of meteorological warning systems and crucial in the fight to eradicate smallpox. 

With influences ranging from the individual level to food policy, obesity cannot be tackled by single or disjointed interventions. Furthermore, obesity related outcomes span years in coming into effect and capturing these dynamic trends further increases the complexity of the issue at hand.

What we need is an approach that acknowledges that complexity and dynamism. To understand and address complex systems like obesity, a unified, strategic, approach is required. A systems approach is built on these foundational steps:

  1. Bringing new minds to the table from disciplines not traditionally associated with obesity
  2.  Using up-to-date, spatially explicit environments to depict energy intake and expenditure
  3.  Capturing the mechanisms of varied systems creating the energy imbalance challenge
  4.  Uniting key stakeholders to develop innovative, systems-oriented, win-win solutions together
  5. ​ Determining any intervention’s potential consequences (direct and indirect; global and local; intended and unintended; immediate and future)
  6. Implementing these solutions in an organized, strategic manner


Our systems approach brings in experts from disciplines not traditionally associated with public health issues, such as computer science, mathematics and engineering. We connect these scientists with the best public health researchers who have decades of obesity-related experience.

Bringing aboard new disciplines will help develop state-of-the-art approaches and methods (for instance, computer simulation models, big data techniques, geospatial tools and social media technology) to allow experts to better connect with stakeholders at all levels. 

A systems approach builds on the strengths and connections to derive optimal scenarios, polices and interventions that are locally relevant and also factor in long term implications and feedback. Building these growing and adaptable systems-level frameworks will allow for not only a clearer understanding on the obesity issues at hand, but also more efficient translation of research into sustainable interventions.