174518 Integrating the Economic and Public Health Views of Obesity

Monday, October 27, 2008: 1:00 PM

Roland Sturm, PhD , Health, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA
Integrating the Economic and Public Health Views of Obesity

Background: Both economic and public health/medical perspectives play an important role in the policy process, but often approach policy questions in an incompatible way. The perspectives can complement each other, though harnessing any synergy requires an understanding of both. At least partly as a consequence of different philosophical underpinning, true multidisciplinary research is largely absent.

Methods: Contrast the two perspectives and review economic arguments in light of the evidence on diet and activity behavior from other fields.

Results: When health compromising outcomes are consequences of environmental incentives that are inefficient (market failures), economists see a role for government and regulatory interventions. In those situations, public health and economic opinions will coincide, despite a fundamentally different rationale. Today's society has evidence of market failures and externalities that increase the cost of maintaining a normal weight, which varies by SES and cultural background.

Discussion. It has become clear that preventing obesity requires altering economic or environmental incentives affect many dimensions of our life. Economic analyses can quantify trade-offs involved and assess how different stakeholders are affected. This information can improve the effectiveness, sustainability, and political feasibility of proposed interventions. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the key issue in the world of political decisions is the distribution of costs and benefits, an issue at the center of economics. As the focus of interventions shifts away from traditional informational/educational to environmental and policy approaches, complementing a public health perspective with an economic perspective becomes increasingly important.

Learning Objectives:
1: To understand the role of environmental influences in eating behaviors and the economic view of obesity and personal responsibility 2. To identify neurophysiologic mechanisms that trigger hunger and lead to eating without awareness or control 3. To identify potential policy responses to controlling the obesity epidemic by reducing energy consumption.

Keywords: Obesity, Prevention

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I conceived of the material and did the literature review and synthesis.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.