APHA Round Up: Efforts to Prevent Obesity

Nov 2, 2011, 2:42 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

On Tuesday, there were a number of sessions that touched on various efforts to address and prevent obesity. Below is a quick round up of highlights from four of those sessions:

The Right “Dose” of Environmental Changes

Pamela Schwartz of Kaiser Permanente described the organization’s efforts to change local environments in ways that support health. An evaluation of the first five years of their Community Health Initiative (CHI)has shown the importance of developing strategies that target enough people with strong enough interventions to actually change behaviors. This combination of reach and strength is what Schwartz and others in the field call “dose." And it works. Children in some CHI communities were more likely to be active in school than those in similar, non-intervention communities. With incremental policy and environmental changes, local practitioners can, as Schwartz put it, “create the conditions that make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Addressing Health Disparities with Prices

After conducting surveys and interviews to determine factors that influence food purchasing decisions among African Americans, Shiriki Kumanyika noted three main themes: value, convenience and price. Kumanyika, director of the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, led research efforts in Baltimore, Durham, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Chicago. In interviews with local African American residents, the team found that they were focused on buying food that provided a good value at a desired dollar amount, finding foods that were convenient to buy and prepare, and identifying choices that would help them avoid high prices. Especially given the economic pressures of the recession, Kumanyika noted that pricing strategies that favor healthy foods are “an important, essential strategy for addressing health disparities.”

Timesaving Tools for Childhood Obesity Researchers

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) is a public-private partnership including the CDC, NIH, RWJF and USDA. In early 2011, NCCOR released two free online resources – the Catalogue of Surveillance Systems and the Measures Registry. At an afternoon session, Jamie Chriqui, PhD, MHS, one of the researchers who helped develop the systems, demonstrated how to navigate them and said: “The new NCCOR tools will save researchers an inordinate amount of time. The information they provide used to take days, weeks or even months to collect. ”

Lessons Learned from Community Media Campaigns to Fight Obesity

The National Prevention Media Initiative is a CDC-funded effort, which supports coordinated, community-linked paid mass media campaigns to reduce obesity and tobacco use. Tom Lehman with FHI360 summarized the results of an evaluation of the key obesity prevention messages. Through focus groups and online surveys with parents and caregivers in seven communities across the United States, the evaluation found that obesity prevention messages resonated best with parents and caregivers of school-aged children (ages 5 to 15). In creative materials, parents indicated that they wanted to see a diversity of races and ethnicities, as well as diversity in body types. Research also showed that audiences preferred seeing key words, such as "start," "change" and "we” instead of the terms "stop," "fix" or "you." Lehman also noted that the more successful messages included a core sequence of points, which included: 1) identifying the problem, 2) acknowledging personal responsibility and 3) making a connection about how people’s environment can help them make healthier choices.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.