Designing a national strategy aimed at preventing childhood obesity: a psychosocial approach

Tristan Tham

Childhood obesity is a complex condition with a multi-factorial aetiology, which includes genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors.1 Consequently, preventive measures must be equally diverse and address diet control, environment optimisation, and public education. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be the co-ordination of these efforts, as together they will be more effective than any one measure alone.2
The majority of the approaches for preventing obesity are based on modifying the behaviour of obese individuals. Cognitive biases, notably the attribution bias3 and the fundamental attribution error,4 focus the blame on the individuals, persuading the public and the
obese to see their condition as a consequence of personal flaws such as laziness or incompetence.5 These psychological stereotypes lead us to think that the only way to prevent obesity is to reform personal character. This is counter-productive because it undermines the multi- factorial approach necessary for prevention.
It is important to remember that children differ from adults in their maturity and therefore preventive measures should account for their stage of physical and intellectual development. It is also necessary to be mindful that preventing obesity is not entirely about physical health, and a more holistic approach with regard for the child’s psychological and social well-being is more appropriate and effective.


  1. World Health Organisation. Obesity: Preventing and Managing the Global Epidemic (document on the Internet]). Geneva, 2000. Cited 2009. Available from:
  2. Epstein LH, Squires S. The Stoplight Diet for Children: an eight- week program for parents and children. New York: Little Brown & Co, 1988.
  3. Crandall CS, Reser AH. Attributions and weight-based prejudice. In: Brownell KD, Puhl RM, Schwartz MB, Rudd L, (eds.). Weight Bias: Nature, consequences, and remedies. New York: Guilford Press, 2005.
  4. Ross L. The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In: Berkowitz L, (ed.). Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. New York: Academic Press; vol. 10: pp. 173-220.
  5. Schartz MB, Vartanian LR, Nosek BA, Brownell KD. The influence of one’s own body weight on implicit and explicit anti- fat bias. Obesity 2006: 14: 440-7.

Back to list of articles.