Re-envisioning the Future of BMI Surveillance: Critical Reflection on a Contested Tactic of the “War on Obesity”

S. Bryn Austin, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Tracy Richmond
, Harvard Medical School 

In the span of a few decades, BMI has become the principal tool of a massively sprawling surveillance system that is near universally accepted and normalized as a necessary tool in society’s arsenal in the “war on obesity.” In recent years, however, a small but growing research literature has begun to estimate the human costs of the iatrogenic effects of the policies and programs themselves marshalled in the “war on obesity,” including the BMI surveillance system, which negatively affects healthcare access and quality of care and exacerbates weight stigma and discrimination. Why, then, has the BMI surveillance system been deployed so extensively and whose interests does this deployment serve?

Our planned Radcliffe exploratory seminar will convene diverse thought leaders and catalyze the cross-disciplinary and cross-sector dialogue that will be vital to envisioning de-implementation of the BMI surveillance system to achieve societal impact on weight stigma and discrimination.