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Educational interventions are unlikely to work because obese people aren't unhappy enough to lose weight

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8487 (Published 17 December 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8487

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  1. Paul Dolan, professor of behavioural science ,
  2. Georgios Kavetsos, research fellow
  1. 1London School of Economics, London WC2A 2AE, UK
  1. Correspondence to: G Kavetsos g.kavetsos{at}lse.ac.uk

The “obesity epidemic” is unquestionably a major public health concern because obesity increases the chance of contracting many adverse health conditions and premature death. To date, nothing has reversed the ever increasing trend in obesity. One important and interesting question is why more people do not lose weight. This is somewhat puzzling considering the adverse effects that obesity has on people’s health. But although obesity can cause health problems, it does not necessarily make people feel worse in the absence of such problems. In fact, reports suggest that obesity has little effect on subjective wellbeing—basically, happiness.

Although there are ongoing debates about the merits of subjective wellbeing measures as a guide to policy making (for example, in valuing health states),1 2 such measures are useful in assessing how people are affected by their circumstances, experiences, and behaviours.3 We are much more likely to care about something that makes us feel worse off now as opposed to in the future, …

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