Misty Behaviors

Gaps in Measuring Behaviors That Contribute to Obesity

Everybody knows the behaviors that cause obesity, right? Wrong. It turns out that we’re a couple of steps away from that knowledge. A new study in the Journal of Public Health points out that we’re not even particularly good at measuring behaviors thought to contribute to obesity. Without good measurements, we can’t even be confident of associations between behaviors and obesity outcomes. And even then, with well-documented associations, important work remains to resolve questions about what’s causing what.

Denise Alexander and colleagues across Europe collaborated on the Scientific Platform Project on Lifestyle Determinants of Obesity and found major gaps in surveillance of behavioral factors thought to be important for understanding childhood obesity. They conclude:

The true causes of the childhood obesity epidemic remain undiscovered, and the ability of research to identify effective prevention and treatment methods is compromised.


The situation is certainly no better in the U.S., where policy decisions routinely rely upon self-reports of diet and physical activity that are well-understood to be “an inadequate basis for scientific conclusions.”

Some people see these concerns as tedious. “Policy research is uniquely challenging and difficult. It requires a different standard of evidence,” we are told.

Pragmatism is important. Pragmatism without good evidence behind it is foolhardy.

Click here to read the study in the Journal of Public Health and here to read more on the subject from ConscienHealth.

Misty Behaviors, photograph © Emmanuele Contini / flickr

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6 Responses to “Gaps in Measuring Behaviors That Contribute to Obesity”

  1. March 08, 2015 at 6:22 pm, Joe Gitchell said:

    Bummer, indeed!

    Not to be prissy, Ted, but do we just wait until science shows us the way? It would seem that pragmatism isn’t served by that, either??

    Gosh I hate conundrums!

    • March 08, 2015 at 8:55 pm, Ted said:

      Of course not, Joe. There’s got to be a middle ground between going with your bias and waiting for a mythical final answer. Hopefully it involved objective consideration of available data.

  2. March 08, 2015 at 9:37 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Pragmatism is fine . Lack of thinking and analysis is not. “Evidence based” starts with sound evidence carefully analyzed. Data and reason can overcome dogma and bias.

  3. March 13, 2015 at 6:58 pm, deirdre said:

    As someone who studies public health law and policy – I am interested in who said this,

    Some people see these concerns as tedious. “Policy research is uniquely challenging and difficult. It requires a different standard of evidence,” we are told. –


    • March 14, 2015 at 5:33 am, Ted said:

      It was said by a public health researcher on Twitter, addressed to me, Dierdre.

  4. March 14, 2015 at 8:16 am, deirdre said:

    Thanks Ted! And thanks for your blog – I read it daily and have shared it with my public health students on several occasions.