Using Systems Thinking to Understand the Dynamics of Obesity in Low and Middle Income Countries
Pp. 306-325 (20)
David William Lounsbury, Judith Wylie-Rosett and Beth A. Conlon
The current chapter applies a systems thinking approach to define and study the
dynamics underlying increased rates of obesity in Low and Middle Income Countries
(LMICs). Systems thinking and dynamics modeling belong to the rapidly evolving,
interdisciplinary field of system science research. This field adds value to more traditional
public health research methods by contributing to the design and testing of integrated
models of change, to examine how key factors interact with each other and with health
status. We frame the problem of obesity for LMICs as an aggregate, chronic energy
imbalance of the population as a whole, due in large part to increased consumption of
highly processed foods. To begin to explore the dynamically complex nature of global
obesity, we develop a causal loop diagram, supported by the extant literature, showing a
comprehensive qualitative model of the dynamics underlying increased rates of obesity in
LMICs. Eighteen endogenous factors, or constructs, make up these seven distinct loops. In
addition, selected exogenous factors are shown, representing the effect of policies by
foreign governments, global corporate entities, and other institutions that explain obesity
dynamics in LMICs. We suggest that there are two major points of intervention to curb
current increasing obesity rates: the first is to sustain or grow healthy food production
capacity and the second is public health education.
Complex public health problems, exercise, fitness, global health, low
and middle income countries, nutrition, obesity, overweight, processed foods,
risk, systems thinking, wellness.
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