Obesity Solution: Dig Harder!

This week’s news on the latest trends in obesity was sufficiently dire to make JAMA’s editors feel desperate for a better obesity solution. Editor in Chief Howard Bauchner and Deputy Editor Jody Zylke are totally bummed by “the unrelenting challenge of obesity.”

“Hundreds of millions of dollars” from “numerous foundations, industries, professional societies, and governmental agencies” and the efforts of “communities, schools, places of worship, and professional societies” have led us to outcomes that “certainly do not suggest much success,” they say. “Scientists and physicians have not been particularly helpful, often communicating confusing and conflicting advice about nutrition.”

Zylke and Bauchner go on to say that “new drugs and procedures will not solve the problem.” Efforts to “unlock the mysteries of obesity” will take too much time. “Immediate solutions are needed.”

So naturally, they say, “The emphasis has to be on prevention, despite evidence that school- and community-based prevention programs and education campaigns by local governments and professional societies have not been highly successful.” Their prescription is to “start with women of childbearing age” and emphasize “collaboration with the food and restaurant industries” to have them “develop and market healthy foods.”

Along with that editorial, JAMA published a viewpoint by David Ludwig that is a tad better. At least he calls for investment in “high-quality, independent research” before moving on to his own formula for immediate action. Reforming the food supply, parental responsibility, and healthcare professionals discussing diet are the key components Ludwig endorses. In addition, he calls for citizens to vote for better food policies “with the ballot” and “with the fork.”

Make no mistake. Zylke, Bauchner, and Ludwig are offering up some fine ideas. These ideas deserve to be tried and tested. But it’s more than just food that’s causing the excess of obesity. And even if these ideas could have a big effect, they are not “immediate solutions.” In fact, relying on prevention alone to solve a problem that already affects much of the population is going to work very, very slowly – if it works at all.

Worst of all, by dismissing the value of evidence-based care for the chronic disease of obesity, we would disregard the value of 93 million American lives already affected.

Click here for the editorial and here for Ludwig’s viewpoint.

Digging, photograph © Jens Schott Knudsen / flickr

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June 11, 2016

4 Responses to “Obesity Solution: Dig Harder!”

  1. June 11, 2016 at 7:51 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    We’ve seen this movie before, Ted–and it doesn’t end well, especially as it doesn’t end.

    Another example where good “politics or optics” does not necessarily align well with good policy.

    Thank you for helping me start my weekend out so happily! Ugh!


    • June 11, 2016 at 7:55 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe. The impact of these mistakes is so big that we must change course eventually.

  2. June 11, 2016 at 8:36 am, Al Lewis said:

    Oh no. Does this mean there is a chance that corporate wellness vendors’ crash-dieting contests might not work?

    • June 11, 2016 at 4:13 pm, Ted said:

      No kidding, Al! Thanks.