Whip Obesity Now – Or Maybe Not

Whip Inflation Now SignTalk is cheap. But history tells us that cheap talk doesn’t solve wicked problems. That’s true whether the problem is the relentlessly rising health harms of obesity or the current hot topic – inflation. The notoriously hollow Whip Inflation Now campaign of Gerald Ford seems like a model for equally ineffective campaigns aspiring to overcome obesity.

At the time, economists knew that the WIN campaign was “unbelievably stupid,” but they went right along with it. So it became an object of ridicule on the way to Ford’s defeat in the next election.

Cheap Talk About Obesity

On the subject of obesity, we’ve had similarly hollow talk for the better part of four decades now. That talk reached its loudest point with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. The enthusiasm was great. Any seriousness of really understanding and addressing obesity? Not so much.

Instead we had birthday parties for the program and premature celebrations of  “plummeting” childhood obesity rates. We said it at the time, and long term data now makes it clear. The statistic supporting that sound bite was cherry-picked.

Now in the U.K., we see a similar exercise in shallow talk about reversing trends in obesity. In 2020, Boris Johnson unveiled a Let’s Do This campaign, complete with regulatory proposals to restrain the marketing of junk food. Two years later, those strategies seem to be in a tailspin, likely to become another artifact with no effect.

Serious Action Needed

But as war rages on in Ukraine, the cost of food is jumping and food insecurity is becoming a humanitarian crisis. This will push the goal of sustainable, health-promoting food systems further out of reach. Obesity prevention will remain a daunting problem – even more difficult to address when securing adequate food supplies becomes the immediate, urgent priority. Food insecurity and obesity unfortunately move through populations together.

Nonetheless, the opportunity is right in front of us. If we want to reverse the rising impact of obesity on health, we need to do three things with serious resolve. First, provide better care for the people living with obesity. That means respectful care and access to real, evidence-based medical care for this chronic disease. Second, we need to get more curious about finding prevention policies that will have a big effect to reverse the global trends toward ever more obesity. Suppositions are not good enough. We must pursue evidence for what works. That means accept the reality that many pet projects in obesity have not panned out.

Third, in order to deal with that reality, we need a strong dose of objectivity. Bias – about obesity and the people who live with with it – often crowds out the objectivity we need. To get beyond shallow slogans (like Let’s Move!) toward policies that work, a strong dose of objectivity is essential.

Click here for a good read about the sad history of Whip Inflation Now. It has lessons for all of us.

Whip Inflation Now Sign, image courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum / Wikimedia Commons

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June 12, 2022

2 Responses to “Whip Obesity Now – Or Maybe Not”

  1. June 12, 2022 at 6:40 am, Al Lewis said:

    I still have my WIN button somewhere…

  2. June 12, 2022 at 9:23 am, Angie Golden said:

    If I could stand up and clap in a comment, I would give this a standing ovation!

    In addition your words are a great reminder for me to check in with every patient about food insecurity this next month before checking their food log! Thank you.