Stop and Go

Mixed Signals on Obesity

We’re getting fatigue from mixed signals on obesity. The American Public Health Association, the United Health Foundation, and the Partnership for Prevention issued a report this week that shows renewed growth in obesity rates. USA Today delivered a scolding with a headline saying: “U.S. Falls Behind on Exercise and Gets Fatter.” The annual report behind these headlines is called America’s Health Rankings.

Last year the headlines were very different. The 2013 edition of the same report painted a rosy picture for America’s health and trumpeted an obesity rate that had leveled off for the first time since 1998. They called it “a victory.”

Presenting at a recent meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, Bill Dietz presented a similarly mixed picture. He suggested that obesity rates in children 2-5 years of age are declining while rates of severe obesity are continuing to grow.

What are we to make of this seemingly contradictory jumble of information?

Simply stated, obesity rates are at historically high levels. At some point — and perhaps we are near that point — every susceptible person in the U.S. will have obesity. But the fact remains that for those who are affected, the impact is growing without relief. More and more people are progressing from mild to severe obesity.

People who are telling us that breastfeeding or Let’s Move! or some other favored initiative is changing the dynamic are simply hoping it’s so. And often, as advocates for these programs, they have a vested interest in believing it’s true.

It makes sense that we are trying everything we can to change the trend. It would make even more sense to conduct more rigorous testing of the measures we are trying. Progress reports are more believable when they’re based on objective analysis.

Click here to read the 2014 America’s Health Rankings report and here for the 2013 report. Click here to read more in USA Today.

Stop and Go, photograph © Marco Centola / flickr

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2 Responses to “Mixed Signals on Obesity”

  1. December 11, 2014 at 6:20 am, Mary-Jo said:

    The last sentence is key. Initiatives that receive lots of attention or are presumed to be working because the hype says they’re working are useless if they are not validated by evidence. It is difficult to create well-designed ways to yield robust measurements of results of a strategy, but it’s absolutely crucial. I would rather see less money devoted to marketing and hype and media coverage of various initiatives and more money portioned to hiring the right people to make sure robust measurements of results are in place and happening.

    • December 11, 2014 at 6:34 am, Ted said:

      I agree with you completely, Mary-Jo. With apologies to Shakespeare, thinking does not make it so.