hope that as local initiatives to combat obesity continue to emerge, the result will be the building of a movement rather than a series of discrete policies or programs.
Communication is key to this work, as speakers illustrated in several ways. Communication is needed to develop a common understanding of obesity prevention, given stakeholders’ many definitions of “prevention.” Another challenge that requires communication is articulation of the shift from individual interventions to environmental change in combating the obesity epidemic.
Solomon observed that a breakdown in communication results from differences in expectations and professional paradigms—even within the research community, for example, between public health researchers and health economists. Communication on such issues as how different sectors view evidence can help bridge these divides.
The importance of communication also relates to how evidence is communicated to policy makers. Workshop presenters demonstrated the impact of maps and other ways of packaging and summarizing research results in the policy process.
Standish voiced a fundamental question raised during the workshop: whether there is a body of data that can be consistently collected across communities to tell the story to policy makers with the necessary impact. More discussion is needed to reach consensus on this question. Standish also urged all those involved in obesity prevention to share data more effectively. Wide dissemination of innovations in data, such as the Supermarket Need Index in New York City, avoids duplication of efforts.
Solomon acknowledged the divergence of opinion among workshop participants on the use of body mass index (BMI) data. He questioned whether assembling the entire chain of evidence—from environmental interventions, to changes in food and physical activity behaviors, to changes in BMI—is necessary for every intervention. He suggested looking at the entire body of work on obesity prevention and not expending time, energy, and community capital on developing this evidence for each intervention. Moreover, as reflected in comments made during the workshop, communities do not want to serve as the subject of research studies that lead to no visible improvement.