Preventing Chronic Disease

Complex Systems Modeling for Obesity Research

ABSTRACT

The obesity epidemic has grown rapidly into a major public health challenge, in the United States and worldwide. The scope and scale of the obesity epidemic motivate an urgent need for well-crafted policy interventions to prevent further spread and (potentially) to reverse the epidemic. Yet several attributes of the epidemic make it an especially challenging problem both to study and to combat. This article shows that these attributes — the great breadth in levels of scale involved, the substantial diversity of relevant actors, and the multiplicity of mechanisms implicated — are characteristic of a complex adaptive system. It argues that the obesity epidemic is driven by such a system and that lessons and techniques from the field of complexity science can help inform both scientific study of obesity and effective policies to combat obesity. The article gives an overview of modeling techniques especially well suited to study the rich and complex dynamics of obesity and to inform policy design.

Read the full paper at CDC.gov »
View U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2007 »