Obesity rates have flat-lined according to the most recent analyses of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data. But what does that mean to you?
These numbers could be interpreted positively: Public health interventions and health communication could have curtailed the expansion of the American waistline, and we might even be headed for a reduction in obesity rates in the coming decades.
They could be interpreted neutrally: Public health and food industry interests have negated the effects of the opposition group.
Or the numbers could be interpreted negatively: We have reached a saturation point and all Americans who are capable of becoming obese are now obese, and no amount of health messaging and education prevented the unhealthy weight gain.
It’s the health communicator’s job to figure out what to do with national statistics, how to interpret the data for the American public. And that’s a lot of power–it could increase or decrease funding for obesity interventions and prevention work currently underway; it could change the public and private response to requests for greater regulation over the food industry, better school food and physical activity, city and regional planning, and so much more. So how should health communicators treat this important but ambiguous information about a plateau in obesity rates? I’m not sure.
My own research would benefit from increased resources and interest, but that interest might be generated from groups that believe we should build on previous success OR from groups who feel that we have to try something radically new. And I think both are right. It may be in our best interests for health communicators to openly debate the importance of these data to generate dialogue among disparate groups.
What do you think? Is there one best way to present this story?
Photo courtesy of Danillo Rizzuti