With the benefit of Foresight: Obesity, complexity and joined-up government

11 June 2015

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Over a hundred factors are associated with obesity, and relationships among most of them were formalised in the Foresight Obesity Systems Map (FOSM) in 2007. This was a characterisation of population obesity in the United Kingdom at that time. The Foresight programme of different projects aimed to harness scientific evidence to the making of policy in a range of areas, obesity among them.

An objective of this particular Foresight project was to ‘de-silo’ obesity policy by bringing together very diverse stakeholders, and to develop directives that recruited ‘joined-up’ government to the cause of obesity control. The Foresight process more generally was used to offer science-based solutions to complex problems. Obesity entered the sphere of complex problems that defied resolution that the Labour administration sought to deal with, along with inequality and climate change among others.

The take-home message of the Foresight Obesities project was that the causes of obesity are embedded in an extremely complex biological system, set within an equally complex societal framework. While different forms of complexity have been argued for, the type of complexity favoured by Foresight was the one most commonly embraced, romantic, or upward-looking complexity that can be ordered at a more macro-level. This article describes the development of the FOSM and the process through which obesity policy and obesity research were reframed as complex problems.