International Journal of Obesity (2017) 41, 840–848; doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.71; published online 18 April 2017

The development of scientific evidence for health policies for obesity: why and how?

M B Richardson1,2, M S Williams3, K R Fontaine2,3 and D B Allison2

  1. 1Department of Population Health Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, USA
  2. 2Nutrition Obesity Research Center, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
  3. 3School of Nursing, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA

Correspondence: Dr DB Allison, Nutrition Obesity Research Center, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ryals Building, Room 140J, 1665 University Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA. E-mail:

Received 23 September 2016; Revised 8 February 2017; Accepted 4 March 2017
Accepted article preview online 15 March 2017; Advance online publication 18 April 2017



Potential obesity-related policy approaches have recently been receiving more attention. Although some have been implemented and others only proposed, few have been formally evaluated. We discuss the relevance, and in some cases irrelevance, of some of the types of evidence that are often brought to bear in considering obesity-related policy decisions. We discuss major methods used to generate such evidence, emphasizing study design and the varying quality of the evidence obtained. Third, we consider what the standards of evidence should be in various contexts, who ought to set those standards, as well as the inherent subjectivity involved in making policy decisions. Finally, we suggest greater transparency from both academics and policymakers in the acknowledgment of subjectivities so they can distinguish and communicate the roles of empirical evidence and subjective values in the formulation of policy.

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