The North-South

CDC Leaders Call for Both Obesity Prevention and Care

Should this be surprising? Probably not. It had to come to this. But this is a pleasant bend in a long arc toward a more realistic approach for obesity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three leaders at CDC write in Health Affairs Forefront that we need both prevention and care to reduce the harms to health obesity causes:

“Many health issues including cardiovascular disease, tobacco use, and HIV require both prevention and treatment approaches to support optimal health. Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden made this point in a 2015 article. Now, nearly a decade later, a rapidly changing landscape of treatment makes it possible to consider these complementary approaches for obesity.”

We are delighted to hear this from Karen Hacker, Peter Briss, and Alyson Goodman. Hacker is the Director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Finally Moving On?

For years, a common presumption was that we would have to rely on prevention alone for overcoming obesity. Lancet captured the essence of this in a 1974 editorial saying “the obese adult can never be ‘cured,’ but most obesity could, with care, be prevented.”

This mindset essentially writes off the medical needs of people with obesity. It has dominated policy approaches to obesity for decades. For a decade and a half, we’ve been pointing out right here that exclusive reliance on obesity prevention is both unrealistic and steeped in bias.

As a former CDC Director, Thomas Frieden noted in 2017 that this strategy had failed because we lacked an understanding of what is causing more obesity and we lacked effective models for prevention and control.

So let us be clear in our support for the leadership of CDC when they step up and say they’ve had enough of a false dichotomy in obesity:

“A multitiered approach should span the continuum from environmental changes such as quality standards for healthier after-school programs, to family-based lifestyle interventions and to emerging opportunities for medication and surgical treatment.”


Click here for the essay from Hacker, Briss, and Goodman.

The North-South, painting by Gino Severini / WikiArt

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February 21, 2024

2 Responses to “CDC Leaders Call for Both Obesity Prevention and Care”

  1. February 21, 2024 at 6:06 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Unfortunately, “quality standards for healthier after-school programs” and “family-based lifestyle interventions” won’t prevent the disease of obesity. It is not that simple and needs to start with an agreement that obesity is a disease. It is not a behavioral problem and it is not the fault of the patient and their family.


    • February 22, 2024 at 3:18 am, Ted said:

      So often, Allen, the assignment of blame is implicit — something like pity rather than empathy. The thinking is something like, “such a shame that these people can’t do better. Let’s help them.”