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Obesity Under Control? No, Wait, It’s Up!

Obesity Trends 2014Let’s call it happy-talk whiplash. As recently as a few days ago, health reporters and public health advocates were feeding us headlines along the lines of “Obesity in the U.S. Leveling Off.” The subtext was that we’re starting to get obesity under control. Today we have a new report authored by Cynthia Ogden at the National Center for Health Statistics of CDC that tells us “Obesity Rises Despite All Efforts to Fight It.”

The report found that rates for both adults and youth rose significantly between 1999 and 2014. However for youth, the increase all occurred between 1999 and 2004. Since then, youth rates have been steady, with no decline.

This report comes on the heels of the Daily Caller publishing emails about a 2014 release of childhood obesity data that that state “Our press release is skewed to highlight the good news per HHS request.” The emails suggest that this skew was the result of requests to coordinate the news with an HHS event to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the Let’s Move campaign. Said CDC senior press officer Karen Hunter:

HHS is asking for some language they can use for Let’s Move regarding the upcoming JAMA obesity study — specifically the decline in obesity among the nation’s 2 to 5 year olds.

The result was hyperbolic headlines about “childhood obesity rates plummeting” and a steady — and in our view misleading — stream of stories about how we’ve got childhood obesity under control.

The truth is that we have an excess of obesity that is at historically high rates and we don’t know exactly why. We have tools for evidence-based medical care that can help reverse the health effects in people with obesity, but access to that care is limited in appalling ways.

Public health advocate Marion Nestle told the New York Times:

The trend is very unfortunate and disappointing. Everybody was hoping that with the decline in sugar and soda consumption, that we’d start seeing a leveling off in adult obesity.

The most troubling response, also reported by the Times, is the suggestion that this news is “a sign that policymakers needed to redouble their efforts to, for example, impose a tax on soda.”

This response is simply wrong. What we need is more work to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Brain-dead repetition of everyone’s favorite assumptions about what will work is getting us nowhere.

Click here for the CDC report, here for more from the Times, and here for the Daily Caller Story on HHS spin about prior reports.

Line Up, photograph © Matthew Fang / flickr

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November 12, 2015

2 Responses to “Obesity Under Control? No, Wait, It’s Up!”

  1. November 19, 2015 at 7:47 am, Allen Browne said:

    Bad is Bad even it is not worse.

    • November 19, 2015 at 7:55 am, Ted said:

      I think you’ll be hearing more about data on childhood obesity rates. There’s a lot of tension between what the data objectively say and what people want to say.