Journal of Public Health

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 111–124 | Cite as

Familial and societal causes of juvenile obesity—a qualitative model on obesity development and prevention in socially disadvantaged children and adolescents

  • Wolfgang Weimer-Jehle
  • Jürgen Deuschle
  • Regine Rehaag
Original Article



The issue of excess weight and obesity among our young people is currently under discussion as one of the most serious problems in public health. Extensive work has been done to analyse the problem, to indicate the drivers, and to create prevention programmes. Much research remains to be done in the field of modelling the complex impact network of familial and societal influences on juvenile obesity. To achieve this, the forecasts and results issued by the various disciplines must be integrated. The aim of our work has been to create a causal-loop model of obesity in socially disadvantaged children and adolescents that allows qualitative simulation, group-specific risk assessment, as well as the identification of key factors for prevention.

Subjects and Methods

The model was created in cooperation with 18 experts from the field of obesity research. The participants were drawn from eight different disciplines including medicine, sociology, and prevention. Four expert workshops pinpointed 43 main obesity drivers at the individual, familial, and societal level; these were rated according to their causal interdependence and impact. The computer-based method of cross-impact balance analysis was used to evaluate the model and to produce risk profiles for different societal and individual context situations.


The model analysis reveals that there is no one single key factor that can be expected to act as an effective prevention factor for every scenario. Instead, both the risks and the effectiveness of prevention measures depend strongly on the specific characteristics of an individual’s own environment.


Consequently, it would appear sensible to approach the design of prevention programmes from a group-specific, multi-factor and multi-level perspective.


Complexity Qualitative modelling Health promotion Juvenile overweight/obesity Prevention Social disadvantage Systemic implications Systems analysis 



The authors would like to thank the members of the expert panel, without whose untiring commitment (which far exceeded our expectations) the model would never have been a success.

The expert panel consisted of

Prof. Dr. Silke Bartsch, Department Everyday Culture and Health, Karlsruhe University of Education

Aytekin Celik, Stadtjugendring Stuttgart e.V.

Prof. Dr. Ingrid Hoffmann, Department of Nutritional Behaviour, Max Rubner-Institut, Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, Germany

Eva Hummel, Department of Nutritional Behaviour, Max Rubner-Institut, Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, Germany

Daniela Kahlert, Department of Sports and Health Care, Potsdam University, Germany

Dr. Robert Jaeschke, Rehabilitation Clinic for Children, Fachkliniken Wangen, Germany

Dr. Lars Libuda, Research Institute of Child Nutrition, Dortmund, Germany

Dr. Claudia Müller, Department Life Sciences and Facility Management, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland

Prof. Dr. Manfred Müller, Institute for Human Nutrition and Food Sciences, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany

Dr. Andreas Oberle, Social Paediatric Centre, Centre for Paediatric Medicine, Olgahospital, Medical Centre Stuttgart, Germany

Dr. Claudia Peter, Institute of Social Research, University of Frankfurt, Germany

Regine Rehaag, Institute for sociology, Leibniz University of Hannover, KATALYSE Institute for Applied Environmental Research, Cologne, Germany

Dr. Ulla Simshäuser, Department Health Promotion, Heidelberg University of Education, Germany

Prof. Dr. Petra Wagner, Institute of Exercise and Public Health, Leipzig University, Germany

Corinna Willhöft, Department of Nutritional Behaviour, Max Rubner-Institut, Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, Germany

Prof. Dr. Eva Wunderer, Social Work, University of Applied Sciences Landshut, Germany

Claudia Ziegler, Children's Hospital Auf der Bult/Medical School Hannover, Germany

Dr. Michael Zwick, Institute for Social Sciences, University of Stuttgart, Germany

Thanks are due also to Ms. Sophia Alcantara for painstakingly creating the system graphs.

The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research prevention research programme.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Weimer-Jehle
    • 1
  • Jürgen Deuschle
    • 1
  • Regine Rehaag
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.ZIRN, University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Institute of SociologyLeibniz University HanoverHanoverGermany
  3. 3.KATALYSE Institute for applied environmental ResearchCologneGermany

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