Sustaining dietary changes for preventing obesity and diabetes: lessons learned from the successes of other epidemic control programs


Boyd Swinburn, School of Health Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Melbourne, Vic 3125, Australia.
Tel: +61 3 9251 7096; Fax: +61 3 9244 6017


A degree of success has been achieved in controlling several epidemics of infectious and non-infectious causes of death in countries, such as, Australia and New Zealand. Using the epidemiological triad (host, vector, environment) as a model, the key components of the control of these epidemics have been identified and compared to the current status of interventions to prevent obesity and its main disease consequence, type 2 diabetes. Reductions in mortality from tobacco, cardiovascular diseases, road crashes, cervical cancer and sudden infant death syndrome have been achieved by addressing all corners of the triad. Similarly, prevention programs have minimized the mortality from HIV AIDS and melanoma mortality rates are no longer rising. The main lessons learned from these prevention programs that could be applied to the obesity/diabetes epidemic are: taking a more comprehensive approach by increasing the environmental (mainly policy-based) initiatives; increasing the ‘dose’ of interventions through greater investment in programs; exploring opportunities to further influence the energy density of manufactured foods (one of the main vectors for increased energy intake); developing and communicating specific, action messages; and developing a stronger advocacy voice so that there is greater professional, public and political support for action. Successes in the other epidemics have been achieved in the face of substantial barriers within individuals, society, the private sector and government. The barriers for preventing obesity/diabetes are no less formidable, but the strategies for surmounting them have been well tested in other epidemics.