Self-Regulation and the Obesity Epidemic


C. Peter Herman, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3G3, Canada [e-mail:].


The obesity epidemic has provoked considerable concern along with suggestions and demands for corrective measures. After surveying the basic features of the epidemic, we turn our attention to self-regulation, which is at the heart of most of the proposed solutions to the epidemic. Information, incentives, and most other tactics to get people to eat less and exercise more all rely on self-regulatory processes. More attention should be paid to the distinction between interventions that depend on individual self-regulation and interventions that bypass self-regulation. A detailed examination of self-regulatory and legislative regulatory alternatives, along with a detailed examination of the causes of the epidemic, leads to the conclusion that we should adopt a cautious and even skeptical approach to intervention. We scrutinize some of the principal proposed solutions to the obesity problem,  few if any of which inspire optimism. The severity of the problem does not justify implementing unproven interventions in the absence of reliable evidence of their effectiveness.