Last week, my policy organization, the STOP Obesity Alliance, joined the National Eating Disorders Association in hosting an event called “Pounds and Policy: Effectively Communicating about Weight and Health” on Capitol Hill. The event was a great success, and brought a number of important perspectives to the table.
The discussion’s goal was to advance an educated approach to policies surrounding weight and obesity. Panelists included Jean Kilbourne, author and expert on advertising and women; Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University; Chevese Turner, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Binge Eating Disorders Association; and Diane Neumark-Sztainer, Professor of Public Health, University of Minnesota; and it was moderated by Susan Dentzer, Editor-in-Chief of Health Affairs.
The recommendations that resulted from this roundtable can be found here.
As part of this event, we revealed an in-depth media analysis assessing how the relationship between weight and health is communicated through the media to policy makers and the general public. The analysis is posted here. While there was some good news from the analysis, I found the results somewhat pessimistic. Largely, many of our key messages are not being widely disseminated in the media, and instead are overshadowed by the typical “old school” and unscientific sentiments about obesity (ie, “people just need to have more self-control”). Each of the following central themes were mentioned, on average, in fewer than 10% of articles about obesity:
- Weight is a health issue first, and not about appearances
- Incremental and sustained weight loss is safe, healthy, and advisable
- Weight status doesn’t necessarily reflect health status
- It takes more than willpower to lose weight
- BMI is one of many factors in determining health in relation to weight
- Body size and shape are largely genetic, and strongly influenced by environmental factors
While the event was a success, it is clear that we have a long road ahead.