Aiming at You

Childhood Obesity: Ready, Fire, Aim

Aim is an important part of hitting a target. For childhood obesity we have an ambitious target to reverse the excess of childhood obesity within a generation. But a new report in Preventing Chronic Disease tells us that people are much more ready to fire off solutions to childhood obesity than they are to commit to figuring out what will actually help.

Researchers from Cornell conducted structured, in-depth interviews with city, county, and state policymakers to assess their understanding of causes, solutions, and responsibility for addressing childhood obesity.

They found a strong belief that the issue is a high priority. And they found that policymakers — like the general public — were pretty sure they knew the cause. Broadly, they found that parents and families were believed to be the cause by serving their kids a lousy diet, failing to make them play outside, and making them spend their time sitting in front of a screen. Secondarily, policymakers blamed structural issues with the food supply — preferential availability of poor quality food over more wholesome food.

The policymakers offered up mostly hypothetical solutions that lie outside their own sphere of influence (“I’d love to see…”). They were pretty consistent in believing that joint efforts involving parents, government, schools, and the food industry would be needed.

It’s great that these folks are pretty clearly convinced that addressing childhood obesity is a high priority. But, getting back to the “aim” thing, it’s distressing that they are so sure that they know what the cause is — bad parents and defective families.

That’s distressing because the smartest people you can find on the subject of what has caused all this excess of childhood obesity are not nearly so sure. They can list a hundred possible causes, but the science is just not complete enough to say what the most important factors are.

But with policymakers who think they know the cause, we’re off to the races, implementing solutions. And there’s little appetite to commit the resources needed to genuinely understand the root causes of the problem. Perhaps curiosity will grow when our misinformed efforts fail and the toll of childhood obesity continues to mount.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” — Zora Neale Hurston

Click here to read the study.

Aiming at You, photograph © Håkan Dahlström / flickr

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2 Responses to “Childhood Obesity: Ready, Fire, Aim”

  1. May 05, 2014 at 2:04 pm, Amy Endrizal said:

    Excellent commentary and worth exploring further. Where can I access the report from Preventing Chronic Disease? Thanks as always for another insightful post.

  2. May 05, 2014 at 8:42 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks for asking, Amy!
    http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/13_0164.htm