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Public Health Nutr. 2009 Mar;12(3):406-13. doi: 10.1017/S1368980008002292. Epub 2008 Apr 22.

Targets to tackle the obesity epidemic: a review of twelve developed countries.

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Department of Public Health, Division of Community Health Sciences, University of Dundee, Mackenzie Building, Kirsty Semple Way, Dundee DD2 4BF, UK.



Health targets describe government intentions for improving population health. The present paper determines whether the targets which twelve developed countries have set for obesity match the seriousness of the public health problem.


Policy documents on general public health, obesity, nutrition and physical activity were obtained by repeated searches of government websites. Details of all relevant targets on overweight, obesity, nutrition and physical activity were extracted.


Only four of the countries studied have set targets for specific reductions in the prevalence of obesity. Two have targets that only mention reducing the prevalence of obesity and two other countries wish to halt the rise in prevalence. Two countries currently have targets which are much less ambitious than those in previous policies. No obesity targets are stated in the policies of four countries. Many of the countries studied have set detailed nutrition targets, but these seldom identify desired changes in dietary behaviour. No country has set targets for a reduction in energy intake. The physical activity targets reflect recommendations from the 1990s. Few targets are set for health knowledge or behavioural intentions which are prerequisites for desired lifestyle changes.


Most of the countries studied have either set no targets or set very modest targets for reducing the prevalence of obesity. Many countries have physical activity targets that are likely to be insufficient to prevent obesity. Governments need to reconsider targets on obesity and to develop shorter-term targets which monitor desired lifestyle changes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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