David Sarwer, associate dean for research at the College of Public Health, was an ideal choice to serve as co-editor of a special issue of American Psychologist, the flagship scientific journal of the American Psychological Association, dedicated to obesity: Sarwer directs Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), and much of his work focuses on the psychosocial and behavioral aspects of obesity.
Obesity is one of the most pressing long-term public health issues in the United States. Approximately 40 percent of American adults currently have obesity (defined by body mass index of 30 and above). Another third are overweight, at risk of developing obesity and weight-related health problems such as Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Obesity is responsible for an overall decline in American life expectancy, he writes, and the economic impact, considering associated healthcare costs, is anticipated to have “a profound, detrimental effect on the economy in coming decades.”
“Our goal for the issue was to highlight the significant contributions that psychologists in the United States have made over the last several decades to increasing our understanding of the development, prevention, and treatment of obesity,” Sarwer says.
With guest co-editor Carlos Grilo, director of the Program for Obesity, Weight, and Eating Research at the Yale University School of Medicine, and journal editor-in-chief Anne Kazak, Sarwer solicited articles from experts in the field and helped determine the mix of topics covered in the issue.
Sarwer also co-authored an article in the issue, examining psychological factors in bariatric surgery patients. Chantelle Hart, associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a research scientist at CORE, is lead author of a paper in the issue that reviews research on how the daily routines of school-age children affect obesity. Some research suggests that reduced sleep, from delayed bedtimes or early school wake-up times, can play a role in excessive weight gain.
“In bringing the issue together, we were trying to include a range of articles that covered pediatric as well as adult obesity,” Sarwer says. “We also wanted articles that touched on issues of obesity prevention, treatment, and policy. We were very fortunate that we received articles from many of the world's leading psychologists who work in these areas.”
Psychological issues are entwined with the disease of obesity and its treatment. Sarwer notes in his introduction that health professionals may hold negative views toward people with excess weight, chalking up the problem to "poor willpower," he writes. The general public often sees obesity as a cosmetic issue “most appropriately addressed by personal responsibility.” Stigma can lead to poor mental and physical health and exacerbate long-term complications of the disease.
“We hope that the articles inspire readers to better understand the disease of obesity, so we can work toward effective treatments and policies that reduce the scope of the epidemic and as well as its physical and psychosocial burdens,” Sarwer says. “This is a public health crisis we simply cannot afford to ignore.”