A systems approach to childhood obesity prevention

On Dec. 11, at a conference on obesity prevention in New Jersey, Terry Huang, professor and chair of Health Promotion at University of Nebraska Medical Center and senior advisor to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity (NCCOR) discussed the benefits of using a systems approach to fight childhood obesity.

A systems approach focuses on the interconnections across actors, factors, and sectors that contribute to childhood obesity, said Huang. It’s blending individual, social, and environmental approaches to help combat childhood obesity from all sides.

Specifically, a systems approach can be applied to childhood obesity to help:

  • Understand interpersonal, community, and intersectoral dynamics — not just traditional risk factors — for generating solutions
  • Create virtual laboratories for intervention design and testing sustainable solutions
  • Generate new hypotheses and identify gaps in empirical data
  • Bring together multiple disciplines and sectors
  • Integrate multiple data sources
  • Anticipate intended and unintended consequences

However, Huang warned that systems science is not a crystal ball to predict the future or a guessing game of what solutions there are for a given problem. A systems approach is meant to complement a traditional toolbox of obesity prevention strategies. Huang also noted that it is important to involve systems thinkers at the outset of program design in order to achieve the maximum benefits.

Systems science is a solution-oriented approach that represents a paradigm shift and convergence of fields, said Huang. It compels us to ask different questions and come up with non-linear solutions.

View Huang’s presentation slides.

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