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A critical analysis of obesity prevention policies and strategies

Ximena Ramos Salas, Mary Forhan, Timothy Caulfield, Arya M. Sharma, Kim Raine


OBJECTIVES: Public health policies have been criticized for promoting a simplistic narrative that may contribute to weight bias. Weight bias can impact population health by increasing morbidity and mortality. The objectives of this study were to: 1) critically analyze Canadian obesity prevention policies and strategies to identify underlying dominant narratives; 2) deconstruct dominant narratives and consider the unintended consequences for people with obesity; and 3) make recommendations to change dominant obesity narratives that may be contributing to weight bias.

METHODS: We applied Bacchi’s “what’s-the-problem-represented-to-be?” (WPR) approach to 15 obesity prevention policies and strategies (1 national, 2 territorial and 12 provincial). Bacchi’s WPR approach is composed of six analytical questions designed to identify conceptual assumptions as well as possible effects of policies.

RESULTS: We identified five prevailing narratives that may have implications for public health approaches and unintended consequences for people with obesity: 1) childhood obesity threatens the health of future generations and must be prevented; 2) obesity can be prevented through healthy eating and physical activity; 3) obesity is an individual behaviour problem; 4) achieving a healthy body weight should be a population health target; and 5) obesity is a risk factor for other chronic diseases, not a disease in itself.

CONCLUSION: The consistent way in which obesity is constructed in Canadian policies and strategies may be contributing to weight bias in our society. We provide some recommendations for changing these narratives to prevent further weight bias and obesity stigma.


Obesity; policy; public health; weight bias

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