Weighing in on the Impact of Obesity Interventions

Measuring obesity in an individual person is relatively simple: get out the tape measure, step on the scale, calculate body mass index.

Measuring the impact of interventions that aim to reduce rates of obesity? Not so easy.

For all the attention directed toward combating the obesity epidemic in the United States, policymakers, researchers, advocates, and public health practitioners struggle to develop and agree upon measures that indicate whether a particular intervention is working, and even more, whether it is scalable and generalizable.

Compounding this issue is that different stakeholders have different evidence needs. Some are not convinced that an intervention is working unless they see rigorous data collected from a randomized controlled trial – considered to be the “gold standard.” Others may set the bar lower, knowing that we may never get perfect evidence, because obesity prevention involves a complex web of social, economic, environmental and behavioral factors.

These were some of the issues raised in a session at AcademyHealth’s 2014 National Health Policy Conference titled, “Obesity Prevention: How Much Evidence Do We Need to Act?”

In this session, a diverse set of stakeholders – Jeff Levi, Executive Director, Trust for America’s Health; Bill Hoagland, Senior Vice President, Bipartisan Policy Center; Linda Belheimer, Assistant Director of Health and Human Resources, Congressional Budget Office; and Shiriki Kumanyika, Professor, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine –– discussed the myriad of issues surrounding obesity prevention measurement, and offered some clear steps for moving forward.

“There was strong agreement that the obesity epidemic is real and that we need to be thinking about how to address it,” said panel moderator Murray Ross, vice president, Kaiser Permanente, and director, Institute for Health Policy. “”It will have–and is already having–major implications for Americans’ health and America’s health care spending.”

In this short clip, Ross gives us the highlights of this important and timely conversation.

Note: Panelist Linda Bilheimer’s comments are not included in this video, but you can view her full presentation slides online.

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