CDC: Learning from a Shortfall on Obesity Goals
When Tom Frieden took over CDC, obesity goals took center stage with six other “winnable battles” in public health. On smoking, teen pregnancy, healthcare infections, and HIV, progress was notable. Progress on obesity goals fell short. The same was true for motor vehicle injuries and food safety. Frieden was frank about the poor progress on obesity:
The data speak for themselves. If you look for the goal we set for ourselves, and look at what happened, we didn’t achieve it.
Jeff Levi of the George Washington University School of Public health found encouragement in the integrity of the process:
I think, to CDC’s credit, they picked a broad range of public health challenges and they set the bar high enough that they could not automatically declare success at the end of an administration.
We agree. But we wonder about the prospects for learning from the shortfall. Leading up to the issuance of this report, CDC has been issuing good-news press releases about carefully selected childhood obesity statistics for years now. Just a few weeks ago, CDC reported an “improvement in childhood obesity among young children enrolled in WIC.”
Cherry-picked statistics promote wishful thinking. Everyone wants to see obesity rates come down. Unfortunately, wishing won’t make it so.
Obesity can become a winnable battle. But winning strategies – backed by real evidence that they work – are scarce. Presumptions about what will work is not enough. Everyone has a favorite idea for reducing obesity. Genuine curiosity about what works and what doesn’t is lacking.
Falling short on obesity goals presents an opportunity for learning. Smart leadership in public health will seize it.
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December 6, 2016