What is the Social Ecological Approach to Understanding Obesity?

Jun 22 / Sudipta Nandi
Urie Bronfenbrenner’s "Ecological Systems Theory" explores a theoretical foundation of multiple, multilevel interconnected settings or conditions that authorises human development and behavioural actions. The theory deduces that varying magnitudes of environmental diversity have different individual impacts, and those impacts govern individual interactive attitudes and evolutions in their lifespan.
Bronfenbrenner finds the significance of studying the ecological background of human physiological and psychological functioning to better understand developmental complexity.

Social Ecological Theory and Obesity

Bronfenbrenner’s theory or the “Social-Ecological Theory” is employed to interpret obesity because its theoretical architecture can effectively investigate various dimensions and complexities of obesity.

Recent literature reviews demonstrate that the theory tends to identify hierarchical interactional factors within socioecological systems which play a part in the prevalence and development of obesity. The ladders of a wide array of systems and levels in this theory determine the combined links between individual and environmental attitudes toward obesity.


This deepest or innermost layer of ecological systems deals with direct and immediate interactional environments surrounding individuals. For instance, family, peers, school, neighbours, and other major connections are included in this layer. As the microsystem involves the highest personified head-on interactions and experiences, therefore, it offers the most urgent and direct impact on individual growth.

Evidently, the microsystem dominates dietary and fitness behavior, and the preference to live inactively. So, family meal models, parent, and peer support types control healthy or unhealthy behaviours, influencing the risks of obesity.


Mesosystem combines various components of multiple microsystems. Relationships among various settings, such as family-school and personal-professional (work-family) are focused to explore the intersectional and influential properties of various microsystems.

So, family-school interactions can increase or decrease obesity risks because school activities like nutrition programs, fitness milestones, and school meal routines are major habit-forming actors.


The indirect or passive influencers for individual development are included in the Exosystem environments or settings. Although these influencers are not directly attached to daily activities, they exert pressure on individual surroundings. For example, multimedia, community resources, parents’ professional settings, and government policies may guide the microsystem to change experiences and growth patterns.

Accessibility to community resources like nutritious options in stores, availability of safe, affordable recreational grounds, and exposure to healthy, environment-friendly nutrition advertisements can significantly promote beneficial choices.


Macrosystem covers the extended socioeconomic and cultural boundaries surrounding individuals. So, ethical elements like societal values, norms, beliefs, cultural elements like customs and laws manage individual experiences within the macrosystem. That indicates socioeconomic status, political ideologies, and cultural traditions as major macrosystemic ingredients.
Perceptibly, macrosystem levels can extensively influence obesity threats as socioeconomic status, food values, food policies, and man-made landscapes are all macrosystemic subjects.


Chronosystem signifies the chronological pattern of evolution, taking account of developmental changes over time. So, the system consists of historical events like wars, economic changes, and personal transitions, such as life events, and relationship changes. As the system highlights dynamic developmental features, temporal requirements are highly considered.
Regarding obesity, the focus is on time-based development and factual backdrops. Accordingly, technological advancements, transformation of food production, supply, distribution, and the societal evolution of fitness modules can be major contributors to rising obesity rates in recent decades.

Social Ecological Theory and Interventions

Researchers and practitioners have a huge scope to develop comprehensive interventions of multifaceted influences applying the Social-Ecological lens on obesity. Policy implementations that improve accessibility, affordability, and availability of nutrients and fitness campaigns in schools and communities can be such interventions. Facilitation of supportive social environments also can promote appropriate health behaviors.
Finally, a precise analysis of individuals’ complex environmental exchanges is crucial to develop worthwhile preventive strategies for obesity.

Sudipta has been working as a scientific content writer for more than 7 years. She loves languages and has earned diploma certificates in Spanish and Russian. She is hard working and believes in honest communication.
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