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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 129193, 10 pages
Review Article

Systems Science and Childhood Obesity: A Systematic Review and New Directions

1Department of Pediatrics, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB 7225, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
2Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA

Received 15 February 2013; Revised 26 March 2013; Accepted 27 March 2013

Academic Editor: Reza Majdzadeh

Copyright © 2013 Asheley Cockrell Skinner and E. Michael Foster. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


As a public health problem, childhood obesity operates at multiple levels, ranging from individual health behaviors to school and community characteristics to public policies. Examining obesity, particularly childhood obesity, from any single perspective is likely to fail, and systems science methods offer a possible solution. We systematically reviewed studies that examined the causes and/or consequences of obesity from a systems science perspective. The 21 included studies addressed four general areas of systems science in obesity: (1) translating interventions to a large scale, (2) the effect of obesity on other health or economic outcomes, (3) the effect of geography on obesity, and (4) the effect of social networks on obesity. In general, little research addresses obesity from a true, integrated systems science perspective, and the available research infrequently focuses on children. This shortcoming limits the ability of that research to inform public policy. However, we believe that the largely incremental approaches used in current systems science lay a foundation for future work and present a model demonstrating the system of childhood obesity. Systems science perspective and related methods are particularly promising in understanding the link between childhood obesity and adult outcomes. Systems models emphasize the evolution of agents and their interactions; such evolution is particularly salient in the context of a developing child.