Laura Siminoff, Dean of the College of Public Health and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Public Health, says that the obesity epidemic demands innovation in public health strategies.
Public health research has improved lives across the world in countless ways. So despite the enormous progress we have made in preventing and treating obesity, why does the problem seem to be getting worse? More than a third of U.S. adults are now obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and research shows that obesity rates are rising in many states, as well as across the world. Obesity is perhaps the public health problem of our decade. So why haven’t we been able to stem the tide?
That question is especially pressing because the consequences of obesity are so great. Some of the leading causes of death—heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer—are linked to obesity. It’s also the single biggest predictor of type 2 diabetes, which can in turn lead to renal failure and the need for dialysis or kidney transplantation. Research shows that the medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $190 billion in 2012 alone, and that figure is rising.
So as public health researchers, how do we respond? As with so many other preventable diseases, the truth is that there is no single approach that can solve the problem. A truly comprehensive solution requires input from disciplines like social and behavioral sciences, epidemiology, genetics and kinesiology, and leadership from clinical fields such as nursing and social work.
Our College of Public Health is built for the kind of innovation we need. The college’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) is becoming a hub for obesity research within Temple University, where community-based work ensures that new prevention and treatment approaches are responsive to the lives and experiences of people in the real world. And our home in the first major U.S. city to tax sugar-sweetened drinks reaffirms the fact that forward-thinking, systemic change comes from collaboration between policy-makers, citizens and researchers.
Public health has the intellectual capital to reverse the rise of obesity. Community leaders across the country agree that changes must be both scientific and societal. And the stakes have never been higher. Our greatest opportunity—and our greatest responsibility—is to work together in this fight.