Considerations for an Obesity Policy Research Agenda

Published:February 12, 2009DOI:


      The rise in obesity levels in the U.S. in the past several decades has been dramatic, with serious implications for public health and the economy. Experiences in tobacco control and other public health initiatives have shown that public policy may be a powerful tool to effect structural change to alter population-level behavior. In 2007, the National Cancer Institute convened a meeting to discuss priorities for a research agenda to inform obesity policy. Issues considered were how to define obesity policy research, key challenges and key partners in formulating and implementing an obesity policy research agenda, criteria by which to set research priorities, and specific research needs and questions. Themes that emerged were: (1) the embryonic nature of obesity policy research, (2) the need to study “natural experiments” resulting from policy-based efforts to address the obesity epidemic, (3) the importance of research focused beyond individual-level behavior change, (4) the need for economic research across several relevant policy areas, and (5) the overall urgency of taking action in the policy arena. Moving forward, timely evaluation of natural experiments is of especially high priority. A variety of policies intended to promote healthy weight in children and adults are being implemented in communities and at the state and national levels. Although some of these policies are supported by the findings of intervention research, additional research is needed to evaluate the implementation and quantify the impact of new policies designed to address obesity.
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