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

Consumerist economics is driving obesity

7 January 2013

The economic modelling used by Dolan and Kavetsos is part of the problem of obesity (1). Of course, simply providing information and advice on obesity’s harmful long term effects is largely ineffective – we do not need research studies and reports to show us that. More revealing is the nature of the evidence presented by the authors. They seem to take for granted that reducing a human being to an isolated individual with motivations measurable in numbers will produce more than superficial answers to obesity or any other facet of the human condition. In fact, the pervasiveness of this sort of abstract reasoning based on simplistic theoretical economic models is one of the root causes of the pattern of deep loneliness and fear that characterises consumerist societies.

Absent from the calculations are the key bigger-than-self problems: the concern we should feel for our indebted and lonely neighbour, the worry over the unsustainable burden of our lifestyle-related illness on our NHS, the looming catastrophe for our planet of our grotesque over consumption. Of course, manufacturers and advertisers prefer to continue grooming us into lone choosers bent on competitive hedonism (2) and the authors are right, there will have to be legislation of the food industry. But until mainstream economists change the way they think, nothing much will get better.

1. BMJ 2012;345:e8487
2. BMJ 2012;345:e8082

Competing interests: None declared

William House, General practitioner (retired)

St Augustine's Practice, 4 Station Road, Keynsham, Bristol BS31 2BN

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