The most recent National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) Member Meeting, held on April 3, featured a lunchtime panel to discuss possible factors contributing to recently reported childhood obesity declines and related topics.
The event sparked an engaging discussion among members as the panel offered thoughts on what areas the Collaborative might focus on over the next five years. The meeting was the first since NCCOR celebrated its 5th birthday in February.
The panelists were:
- Hank Cardello, Senior Fellow and Director, Obesity Solutions Initiative, The Hudson Institute
- Jessica Donze Black, Director, Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods, The Pew Charitable Trusts
- Tracy Fox, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC
Moderator Elaine Arkin of NCCOR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation moderated the discussion, which included questions from NCCOR members.
All three panelists agreed that the recent declines indicate complementary shifts are occurring—that changes in food systems are being complemented by environmental and cultural shifts. Actions taken by the policy, industry, personal, and environmental sectors are beginning to have an impact. “Personal responsibility is being complemented by corporate responsibility and government responsibility,” said Fox.
The group also remarked that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been important in clarifying the link between obesity and increased health care costs.
The new statistics on declines in childhood obesity look good overall and are the beginning of what researchers would have hoped to see, given the increase in efforts for children ages 2-5 in recent years, they said. A panelist acknowledged changes in the composition of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages as a potential contributing factor, for example. Even so, the panel noted the numbers mask distinct differences across subpopulations.
The panel reminded NCCOR that food marketing is still an enormous challenge. The food industry has specifically targeted certain groups, including children and minority groups. Also, marketing techniques have evolved significantly and now go far beyond traditional television marketing to encompass social media and other digital platforms such as games on mobile devices. To continue making headway, marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children must be addressed.
In thinking about NCCOR’s next five years, the panel closed by listing several activities NCCOR may consider and adopt.
- Find ways to replicate successes for populations and groups not currently experiencing declines.
- Replicate successful natural experiments underway and figure out dynamic ways to communicate results.
- Demonstrate and communicate what’s working using language that can be accessed by diverse groups, and frame results in ways that make groups act.
- Communicate return-on-investment factors and “build the business case. It’s essential,” said Cardello, to educate businesses on how obesity declines benefit them.
- “Let’s protect the really good policies we have in place right now,” said Donze Black, explaining that personal stories often impact legislative decisions. Thus, clear research findings accompanied by individual accounts can be very effective.