May 9, 2011: As the obesity epidemic captures the news, experts are concerned about how media reporting affects consumers and policy makers. At the US Congress Visitors’ Center today, Christine Ferguson, JD, Director of STOP Obesity Alliance — who spoke with me prior to the conference — and Lynn Grefe, President and CEO, National Eating Disorders Association, collaborated to host a panel to address concerns. Ferguson emphasized that with so much pressure to lose weight, people forget about healthy weight. “Even losing 5 to 10 pounds, no matter what one’s weight is a step towards health,” she explained.
“Pounds and Policy: Effectively Communicating about Weight and Health” was convened to discus ways to responsibly highlight the connection between health and weight. The leaders are particularly interested in how to stop obesity stigmatization and encourage effective education by media, the entertainment industry, and policy makers.
Even a 5 to 10 pound weight loss is a help
What would be considered ideal in terms of communicating “healthy weight” vs. the dieting obsession? Ferguson said, “The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has very clear guidelines. What they found from doing an extensive literature review and studying the research is that a tremendous impact can result from modest weight loss.
“Even people in the higher regions of weight, if they can start with just 5 to 10 pounds, with that first increment, they will see a noticeable difference in their blood pressure and measures for diabetes. We would like to see that message get through.” Christine Ferguson, JD, STOP Obesity Alliance
One of the key barriers to effective communication is something Ferguson learned at the New York panel last year. Given the extensive research, which can be conflicting, reporters do not have the time “to translate the plethora of studies.” She added “It is difficult for them to sort through. We need to help the press get this message across.”
Ferguson noted that talking about the seriousness of the epidemic seems to encourage stigmatization and when that happens, people withdraw. “Once they do this, they will not be able to participate in the society or the economy. We keep hearing predictions that by 2020 over 40 percent of the population could be overweight. You cannot shun two thirds of the population. We need to move towards discussing healthy weight,” she added. www.stopobesityalliance.org,
Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, over the week-end expressed her views: “What I am particularly concerned about is the stigmatizing nature of existing messages and communication towards people who are affected by obesity. We need to ensure that we are not harming the people that we are trying to help by ensuring that efforts to address obesity or eating disorders do not promote stigma or prejudice.” She added that “efforts to prevent and treat these issues must be supportive.”
The discrimination factor
The Alliance looked at the economic impact of obesity on the personal level and in the labor market. “What we found,” said Ferguson, “is that Caucasian women who are obese earn about $2,000 less than their normal weight colleagues, but that there is no similar wage differential between Caucasian men who are obese and those who are normal weight. Among African-Americans, there was no wage loss for either men or women due to obesity. Nonetheless, the health impact cuts across all cultural lines.”
Increasing public concern about the rise in obesity may have led to societal confusion about what is healthy and, as such, created an unrealistic pressure to be thin. As Ferguson pointed out, “We do not want to make weight loss and obesity so frightening for young women that it can lead to eating disorders.”
The NEDA, panel, and collaborating organizations
Lynn Grefe, NEDA, was quoted saying: “Our conversation today and the new media analysis echo the ongoing need for us to address the societal pressures and the unrealistic images that we know can be contributing factors among people who develop eating disorders, depression and other esteem issues.” www.NationalEatingDisorders.org
The panel was moderated by Susan Dentzer, Editor-in-Chief, Health Affairs and members included Jean Kilbourne, EdD, media critic, author and expert on advertising and women, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, Professor, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Chevese Turner, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Binge Eating Disorders Association, Sarah Kliff, healthcare reporter, POLITICO. and Dr. Puhl fromYale.
The NEDA www.NationalEatingDisorders.org headquartered in Seattle, Wash., is the leading U.S.non-profit organization supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance www.stopobesityalliance.org, is a collaboration of consumer, provider, government, labor, business, health insurers and quality-of-care organizations united to drive innovative and practical strategies that combat obesity.
A push from Michelle Obama
A help in the spreading the word on obesity came about with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative. On February 3, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “First lady Michelle Obama jumped into the policy arena Tuesday, meeting with several Cabinet secretaries and congressional committee chairs in the White House’s Old Family Dining Room to strategize on a national campaign against childhood obesity set to kick off in a week.” First lady leads fight against youths’ obesity – SFGate
And as the Chicago Tribune reported just yesterday Beyonce, Michelle Obama dance for ‘Let’s Move’ campaign
For more about childhood obesity, Rita Watson: Working moms and child obesity, a perplexing issue/ Providence Journal
A listing of articles on weight and health can be found at www.ritawatson.com / Love your body, but heed obesity concerns: 16 links
Copyright 2011 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved