Obesity, Business and Public Policy

Obesity, Business and Public Policy

Edited by Zoltán J. Ács and Alan Lyles

The effects of obesity have become practically ubiquitous in the US. This book aims to provide an alternative framework through which to explore the important and controversial obesity debate that has spilled over from the medical community. This book is not about obesity as a medical condition, nor does it offer a wide-ranging discussion on the health effects of obesity or the role of the ‘right’ diet.

Chapter 4: Obesity, Poverty and Diversity: Theoretical and Strategic Challenges

Lenneal J. Henderson

Subjects: business and management, organisational behaviour, public management, economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, welfare economics, politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy


Lenneal J. Henderson INTRODUCTION According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), everyone is becoming fatter, or, to use the polite word, ‘obese’. What accounts for the trend toward overweight individuals across age, race and socioeconomic status? If the result is excess weight, are the causes the same? Are the laws of supply and demand universal? To address these causes, must we craft and broadcast the same health and safety messages in public policy, food and drug marketing, and social and cultural institutions – or must we diversify and variegate these messages? If we believe that excess weight reflects socioeconomic status, will an individual, a household or a neighborhood’s economic life chances improve with weight control? Given the diversity of the population in the USA, the reality of persistent poverty and the dynamics of geography and space, what are the appropriate policy, corporate and community-level intervention strategies to reduce and prevent obesity? These are among the interrelated questions driving this chapter. The quality of the evidence purporting the link obesity to race, gender, ethnicity and income is a salient analytical and public policy issue. Medical evidence of the adverse consequences of obesity abounds. Less clear is how the curious admixture of race, culture, income and geographic location cast themselves over the shadows of mental, behavioral and medical explanations for obesity. First, we review samples of existing evidence linking the medically obese to their race, ethnicity, gender and geographic location. Second, we raise questions about the relationship of who we are...

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