Panel calls for improvements in research on natural experiments to combat obesity epidemic
An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health outlined several recommendations to improve research to end the obesity epidemic, emphasizing the need for an expanded approach to obesity research. They note that additional methods are needed to assess obesity prevention interventions occurring at the community level.
Obesity is a major contributor to serious health conditions in children and adults. The prevalence of obesity has grown rapidly in the last three decades. In 2014, more than one third (39.8 percent) of U.S. adults and 18.5 percent of U.S. children and young adults met the definition of obesity.
There is an urgent need for evidence-based approaches to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Yet, because multiple factors such as lifestyle, socioeconomics, and the environment contribute to obesity, maintaining a healthy weight remains a difficult condition to study.
Actions such as financial incentives for healthier foods, community-based physical activity programs, or construction of separated bike lanes that are designed to change real world environments present an exciting opportunity to evaluate “natural experiments” in obesity. However, incomplete development and lack of standardization in study designs, data collection methods, and statistical approaches present significant challenges.