NCCOR’s Connect & Explore Webinar on Feb. 23 provided the first public forum to connect with authors from the recently released Lancet Series on Obesity.
The series discusses reasons for scarce progress; reviews regulatory, non-regulatory, and quasi-regulatory actions; identifies high-priority actions; challenges entrenched dichotomies; and proposes a reframing of obesity. Each paper in the six-part series challenges the current, rather simplistic “either or” obesity solutions; generates new perspectives; and highlights examples to spur policy makers to take action.
One major reason for limited progress on obesity prevention is the absence of pressure from civil society for policy action, said Dr. Terry T-K Huang, professor at the School of Public Health, City University of New York. Dr. Huang is lead author of the series paper, “Mobilization of public support for policy actions to prevent obesity,” and outlined four demand-side strategies that the public health community can use to mobilize popular demand. They include:
- Refining and streamlining messages shared with the public by identifying the most effective frames for presenting information
- Enhancing media advocacy
- Building citizen protest and engagement
- Developing a receptive political environment
In addition to these strategies, Dr. Huang emphasized the importance of expanded coalitions, which allow for concerted actions among diverse sectors and combine top-down and bottom-up strategies that can create a greater policy effect.
The webinar was also joined by Dr. Boyd Swinburn, professor of population nutrition and global health at the University of Auckland; and Alfred Deakin professor and co-director at World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.
Dr. Swinburn discussed how the public can leverage a range of mechanisms to hold governments and industry accountable for healthier food and physical activity environments. Civil society, for example, can hold governments accountable by invoking codes of conduct and ethics guidelines, providing public feedback via media, advocacy, or watchdog organizations, as well as through formal political processes. Litigation, shareholder activism, investment and disinvestment in products/services, and feedback to key industry bodies are mechanisms that civil society can use to hold the private sector accountable.
While mobilizing public support for policy actions holds a lot of promise in the context of obesity, more research is needed. Dr. Huang highlighted a few key areas of importance including documenting methods and linking mechanistic strategies to observable changes; collecting timely, longitudinal population surveillance data on changes in social norms and attitudes; and documenting the cost-effectiveness and unintended consequences of different policy options.
View the recording of the webinar.
To read the Lancet Series on Obesity, visit http://www.thelancet.com/series/obesity-2015.