The editors explain that in health policy terms, wicked problems describe a situation that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading global risk factor for death, and also a major cause of non-communicable diseases (the term for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes), the leading cause of death around the world.
Addressing the challenge of physical inactivity is complex, especially as governments are often the target of extensive lobbying by parties with vested interests, such as the food industry, as highlighted in a recent PLOS Medicine series on Big Food. Urban planning, where the needs of car drivers are often prioritised over those of pedestrians and cyclists, is also an issue.
The editors call for more robust research into the policies addressing physical inactivity and argue that the designs of clinical trials can also be applied to policies.
The editors say: “The time is now right for many initiatives to come together in the global push around public health policies for inactivity and other risk factors for [non-communicable diseases].
The editors add: “There is a real opportunity to not only bring hard evidence to bear on policies but also to exploit the collaborative nature of the internet to enable policies to be translated into action.”
“Addressing the Wicked Problem of Obesity through Planning and Policies”,
The PLOS Medicine Editors (2013)
PLoS Med. 10(6): e1001475. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001475
Funding: The authors are each paid a salary by the Public Library of Science, and they wrote this editorial during their salaried time.
Competing Interests: The authors’ individual competing interests are here. PLOS is funded partly through manuscript publication charges, but the PLOS Medicine Editors are paid a fixed salary (their salary is not linked to the number of papers published in the journal).