Imagine an epidemic that kills more than 300,000 Americans a year. A disease that affects more than 65 percent of the population, and whose incidence among children has tripled in the last three decades. One in which the health-related complications are greater than those of poverty, smoking, and alcoholism, and indirect costs include everything from rising insurance rates and lost work hours to a bump in airfare prices.
It isn't cancer or HIV; it's obesity. And it's a problem that is so multifaceted, with so many contributing factors, that some people have likened it to the crisis in the Middle East in terms of complexity of causes and possible solutions.
"The issue of obesity in our society is one of tremendous complexity," says Dr. Allen Levine. "There is a network of complicated forces interacting, and it's difficult to say any one of them is the root 'cause.' Biology, psychology, society, the government...they all play a role. It isn't as simple as 'nature or nurture.'"