those market leaders that can afford to have market share frozen, or those companies that want to be perceived as a leader, or can carve out a “health” niche with their customers, will likely respond differently from other companies.

If the tobacco experience is any guide, it is likely that the food companies will act just enough to avoid government regulation, but will fall short on making structural changes in product design or marketing that will fundamentally alter their marker position. To date, companies have been much more comfortable with educational campaigns emphasizing personal responsibility and the need for increased physical activity than with proposing major policy or structural changes.6

In trying to anticipate possible changes in corporate behavior, it should be remembered that marketing and selling unhealthy food, as opposed to tobacco for minors, is completely legal. On the other hand, document discovery has not yet taken place, and if it does, it may change public perceptions pertaining to the legality versus morality of marketing to children those products with known adverse health effects.

The recognition for collaborative approaches to preventing obesity has already begun, and various governments are beginning to launch broad-based national strategies for tackling obesity (Mayor, 2004). In fact, the WHO approved a Global Strategy for Diet, Physical Activity and Health (WHO, 2004) that calls for multisectoral collaboration to address the increasing global prevalence of obesity.

SUMMARY

Efforts to address contemporary public health problems are often difficult to evaluate for a number of reasons including the urgency and need for a rapid response, the lack of classical experimental design, often not having an unexposed control group, difficulty in measuring social factors, and not understanding the dynamics between social forces and health behaviors (McQueen, 2002).

While difficult, it is important to understand the factors that contribute to public health advances and the reasons for the failure of unsuccessful public health programs. This is particularly true as we face new problems that have complex, multifactorial, and often commercially linked dimensions. Rather than “reinventing the wheel,” making mistakes previously made, or overlooking interventions that have been shown to be effective, it

6

For example, see the website of the American Council on Food and Nutrition, http://www.acfn.org/about/, or the Center for Consumer Freedom, http://www.consumerfreedom.com/.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement