Disappointing APHA Obesity Story

APHA Obesity InfographicWith much fanfare, the American Public Health Association (APHA) released a graphic obesity story last week that claimed public health professionals are conquering obesity by promoting lots of good stuff like eating more veggies and breastfeeding. All we need to do is make sure that the bad guys in Congress don’t cut the budget for public health. The obesity problem will be solved.

Now all these good things that APHA is promoting are indeed good things. Breastfeeding is good. Eating fruits and veggies is good. Safe streets are good. Investing in public health and disease prevention is good. But it would help if the APHA were telling a story that was more grounded in facts and evidence than the story in this infographic.

Lots of good facts and evidence support the need for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, obesity prevention is not part of that evidence base. And suggesting, as APHA does in this infographic, that promoting breastfeeding will reduce obesity for those infants just isn’t backed up by the controlled studies that have been done. Breastfeeding has many well-documented benefits. So it’s best to stick with the facts.

And so it goes with other things that APHA is suggesting will solve the problem of obesity. Like eating more fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea. But by itself, encouraging people to eat more of anything is not necessarily going to reduce the prevalence of obesity.

The story woven by APHA is that giving people nice places to play, telling them to eat more fruits and veggies, and encouraging mothers to breastfeed will solve the problem of obesity if we just keep at it. As commendable as all these efforts are, there’s no evidence to suggest that they will be enough to reverse the excess prevalence of obesity in America. Not even close.

Obesity is a complex problem that, for many people, is not getting better. Telling a simplistic story to suggest we’ve got it under control is irresponsible.

That’s why the Institute of Medicine gave the U.S. a failing grade last summer on measuring progress in preventing obesity. APHA would do well to take make sure they live up to their credo to advocate “For Science” as they say in their tagline.

Click here to read the APHA press release for their new infographic and click here to read more about the need for better evaluation of obesity prevention programs.

Story Time, image © catnipstudio / flickr

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