A Stark Line Between Confidence and Competence in Obesity

Black Lines 1We’ve got this. “We know what works to prevent obesity.” This is a refrain public health experts repeat often on the subject of obesity and childhood obesity in particular. But it reminds us that there’s a stark line between confidence and competence – especially in dealing with obesity.

Unfortunately people mistake confidence for competence all too often. Perhaps this explains, in part, why years of efforts to prevent the rise in obesity have yielded poor results.

Insufficient Knowledge

In Obesity Reviews, Nanna Olsen and colleagues offer a thorough review of primary obesity prevention in youth. Their conclusions are stark and clear:

“Numerous childhood overweight prevention interventions have been developed during the past decades, primarily targeting diet and/or physical activity. Several of these interventions showed positive effects on diet and physical activity level but did not show effects on risk of developing overweight. The evidence foundation is inconsistent as four out of five interventions did not show positive effects.

“We do not have sufficient knowledge about how to prevent children with healthy weight from developing overweight, and creative solutions are urgently needed.”

Projecting Confidence

Unfortunately, that kind of candor does not always carry the day. Research tells us that overconfidence is more likely to win an assignment than candor. Years of confident promises about “solving the problem of obesity within a generation” inspire people. But all too often they take us nowhere.

Lifestyle gurus promise that they have the real answer for childhood obesity. They tell us about “empowering and freeing” patients and families to choose a healthy lifestyle.

Celebrity health coaches like Jillian Michaels confidently tell people that they have the answer and that medical help with obesity is unnecessary. But she is medically unqualified on this subject and plainly mistaken.

This is a stark reminder that when the subject is obesity, we must not confuse confidence with competence. In fact, excessive confidence and bold promises are red flags.

Click here for the new paper by Olsen et al, here and here for further perspective.

Black Lines 1, painting by Georgia O’Keeffe / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


November 5, 2023

One Response to “A Stark Line Between Confidence and Competence in Obesity”

  1. November 05, 2023 at 9:29 am, Allen Browne said:

    Sad, but true. Thank you.