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The federal government has declared obesity and overweight to be one of the most pressing public health threats facing the United States today and is engaged in a “war on obesity”. Unfortunately, the main arsenal employed in this war has been ineffective media based health information campaigns that encourage people to diet and exercise. This article critically evaluates the federal government’s efforts in the “war on obesity” that emphasize individual based change and do not address the structural barriers, such as inability to afford healthy foods and a lack of safe, accessible places to exercise that keep people from following the government’s dietary and exercise guidelines. By failing to address the barriers people face in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, while promoting the message that weight loss is simply a matter of self-control, the federal government is promoting the stigma associated with being overweight and obese, while failing to meet its public health duties. This article addresses these shortcomings and argues that the federal government should shift its focus away from individual level information based campaigns and should instead collaborate with state and local governments and private actors to create environments that make the healthiest choice be the most attractive and easiest option.

Date of Authorship for this Version

April 2007