Advocates “Fan the Flames” of Progress at Obesity Society Forum

Citing programs such as breast feeding education, salads to schools, menu labeling and procurement, and the new obesity management certification for physicians, a panel of experts at the Obesity Society’s Advocacy Forum today in San Antonio agreed scientists are making progress both in the use of evidence to drive obesity policy and in tackling obesity itself, but that there is still much work to do and that we need to “fan the flames” to increase the speed of change. The Forum, a part of The Obesity Society’s annual meeting, was intended to discuss the gap in obesity between what scientists know and what scientists do and explore the prospects for closing it. The event attracted a large and intent audience of obesity researchers and advocates.The panel, moderated by Ted Kyle, RPh, and made up of William Dietz, MD, PhD, Former Director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, CDC,  Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, Scott Kahan, MD, Director, STOP Obesity Alliance, and Donna Ryan, MD, Professor Emeritus, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, walked attendees through evidence-based efforts underway to fight obesity as well as some efforts which seem to be effective but have not been fully measured.

Dr. Dietz talked about progress that’s been made in schools specifically and cited falling obesity rates among school-age children in some cities, though he added, “We don’t know what’s effective…We lack a systematic change.”

Dr. Puhl took the audience through the work that has been done in weight bias in anti-obesity campaigns, which shows that the most effective efforts talk about specific behavior changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables and do not stigmatize the sufferer. She challenged the group to consider whether obesity even needs to be mentioned in such campaigns.

Dr. Kahan advocated for a multi-pronged approach to curbing rising obesity rates similar to the different approaches that have worked in controlling smoking, as well as for intensive primary care intervention. He cited the fact that CMS abandoned their longstanding policy that obesity is not a disease as evidence that the ongoing efforts by people in the obesity field are having an effect.

Finally, Dr. Ryan illustrated the difficulty in treating obesity by pointing out differences between fighting hypertension (clear and easy measurement; 200 available treatments; office visits covered, etc) and fighting obesity (difficult and conflicting measurement, few treatments, little or no coverage.) She also talked about a promising training regimen she was involved in in Lousiana in which physician PIs, office managers and interventionists received 12 hours of training in treating obesity and were able to help their patients make significant progress.

Comments from the audience included questions on the likelihood of insurers paying for effective treatments like surgery and how to push for more evidence to support interventions that seem to be helping.  The level of optimism over progress in obesity varied, but everyone agreed that although the efforts discussed by panelists were encouraging, there is more work needs to be done.