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Weight of the Nation Conference

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Over the past two days in the nation’s capital, a powerful convergence of leaders came together to ponder the serious issue of obesity and its physical, social, and economic consequences.

At the Weight of the Nation conference, convened by the CDC, there was broad participation by local, state, and national researchers, policymakers, practitioners, advocates, academics and others seeking effective solutions. The big news to come of the conference so far was the startling study finding that obesity is costing us $147 billion in health-care costsone in every ten dollars spent on health-care nationwide.

While it was exciting and encouraging to have champions such as Bill Clinton, Senator Harkin, and Health Sec. Kathleen Sebelius offer powerful declarations of support, I am still worried. Worried that this battle will take a very long time. Worried that many Americans still look at individual behavior as the primary place for change rather than exploring the harmful effects of place on the individual and family’s range of choices.  (Note the opening photo of an overweight person in the chair as opposed to the large number of fast food restaurants and unsafe place to play).

We are learning a lot at the conference. For example, studies showing that increased obesity is tied to cheap, easy availability of unhealthy, tasty foods. We are learning what’s working in other countries, such as in Amsterdam, with all their cycling and walking and high parking rates, there is still an obesity problem. We are hearing from economists that how we frame obesity intervention matters.

For example, polls taken in NY showed public suppport for having government involved in creating healthier policies to reduce obesity. But this support significantly declined when asked if they support taxes to make the changes happen. So there is still more to learn, more smart folks to talk to, more business cards to collect, more research to collect and evaluate.

But the real test is when we all return home, what do we do differently? What commitments will be made within our organizations and networks? How do we leverage and maximize this important moment to stay the course over the long haul to make the needed policy changes that can be sustained? How do we strengthen communities and families without blame and with resources? So these are the questions I will continue to ponder in the remaining half day of this amazing conference.

Mildred Thompson is the Director of the PolicyLink Center for Health and Place and the Deputy Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Written by Mildred Thompson

July 28th, 2009 at 9:58 pm