Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are we having the right conversations?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about conversations or more specifically how frequently we have the wrong conversations about obesity. This really hit home to me when I attended an obesity forum at the Democratic National Convention last August. The Obesity Society sponsored the event and there was an impressive panel of both policymakers and obesity scientists. Given the role that the obesity epidemic plays in this nation's healthcare woes, the forum was very timely.

However, timeliness and relevancy weren't enough to carry the conversation to a useful outcome. Very quickly, it was obvious that although a conversation was taking place, no one was listening. Strange nuances occurred: the scientists spoke about the potential impact of the obesity "tsunami" and the policy makers spoke about their personal experiences with food and weight issues. The policy makers were concerned that people aren't cooking any more and kids have nowhere to play. The scientists spoke of complicated webs and cautioned that there are no easy answers. No one had an adequate answer for the intrepid journalist from the Congressional Quarterly who asked about the opportunity for taxation on junk foods. There was definitely an air of defeat at least among the some of the scientists.

Since August, I've paid closer attention to how we are discussing obesity issues at all levels - global, national, local and personal. What is the right conversation for scientists to have with policymakers? What has to happen for both sides to listen and collaborate with each other for a useful outcome? What are the markers that will really inform us that actual change is taking place?

A couple of organizations working on ensuring the obesity conversation is kept alive - Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance and the National Campaign to End Obesity. Check out their web sites and see what you think about whether the conversations are the right ones to have.

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