Differences between individual and population based approaches to obesity. Adapted from Swinburn et al (see Further Reading box)

Individual based approachPopulation based approach
Key measuresBody weight, waist, body mass indexPrevalence of overweight and obesity, mean body mass index, mean waist
Key aetiology questionWhy is this person obese (or gaining weight)?Why does this population have a high (or rising) prevalence of obesity?
Main aetiological mechanismsGenetic, metabolic, hormonal, behaviouralEnvironmental, cultural, behavioural
Key management questionWhat are the best long term strategies for reducing the person's body fat?What are the best long term strategies for reducing the population's mean body fat/waist circumference?
Main management actionsPatient education, behavioural modification, drugs, surgeryPublic education, improving food, physical activity environments, policy, planning
Volume of information on aetiology and managementVastMinimal
Driving forces for research and actionImmediate and powerfulDistant and weak
Potential for long term benefit to individualsModestModest
Potential for long-term benefit to populationsModestSignificant