Did you miss this excellent Viewpoint in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association about obesity? I almost did.
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers paired up to write “The Next Generation of Obesity Research – No Time to Waste.”
Here’s the gist:
Can the United States again rise to the challenge and change its attitudes, policies, behaviors, and environments in some fundamental ways? The health of the next generation depends on the answer.
Obesity is complicated, so can we collaborate to solve it? Research is key, they say:
Americans spend more than $60 billion annually on weight-loss programs and products, yet scant evidence exists that these expenditures translate into lasting weight loss. Given the health consequences of obesity, the United States needs rigorous data on what approaches can help achieve and maintain healthy body weights over the long term.
Indeed, research has provided—and will continue to provide—the foundation of evidence needed to confront the obesity crisis in the most effective and efficient manner. Among the many questions to address are: Why are some individuals more susceptible to obesity? Can the knowledge of biology and behavior be used to develop and better target intervention strategies? What current strategies really work? For whom? Can these approaches be scaled up?
To address this need, research must proceed swiftly on 2 parallel fronts. The first is to devise practical and effective strategies for intervention, with special emphasis on preventive strategies that can be rapidly implemented in health care and community settings. The second is to evaluate community-based efforts that will soon be launched or are already under way, to gather data about their effectiveness, and to use that information to develop evidence-based interventions that can be applied on a wider scale.
This research needs priority funding because it will then inform policy, they concluded:
To advance this type of real-world research, the NIH recently launched an effort that will make it possible to more rapidly fund studies of imminent program or policy changes. This will enable researchers to collect time-sensitive data just prior to implementation of a new program or policy designed to reduce obesity. Having baseline information will facilitate evaluation of the effectiveness of these approaches and will serve as a basis for ongoing comparisons.
Additionally, research can provide much-needed information for policy makers venturing into uncharted terrain to address the obesity epidemic. Like their predecessors who fought long and hard for no-smoking laws and restrictions on cigarette sales and advertisements, leaders in medicine and government who propose policies to address obesity, such as mandatory nutrition education in public schools and new taxes or quantity limits on sugary soft drinks, may be accused of supporting a “nanny state” model, unless they have rigorous data to support their efforts.