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Obesity-Prevention Efforts Need More Evaluation, Report Says

More research and evaluation are needed to determine the effectiveness of obesity-prevention efforts in the United States, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine.

The report suggests that current approaches to evaluating obesity-prevention efforts fail to adequately track the success or failure of such initiatives. Although much of the requisite data are available on a national level, gaps remain in terms of data collection at the local level.

"Existing practices focus on calculating individual behaviors, energy expenditure and intake, and overweight and obesity without including more policy, environmental, and systems changes, especially at the community or population level," says the IOM committee on evaluating progress of obesity-prevention efforts in the report.

The institute, established in 1970, is the nonprofit, non-governmental health arm of the United States National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council.

To address shortcomings in obesity-prevention evaluation, the IOM committee developed evaluation frameworks to be used interdependently at the national and local levels. The frameworks include guidance for planning, implementing, and evaluating obesity-prevention efforts.

Well and Good

In essence, the committee's goal with the respective frameworks is to ensure the timely, accurate collection of related data at the national, state, and local levels.

The IOM recognizes, however, that the frameworks won't have their intended effect without significant organizational changes across all levels. Certain indicators and measures of success must be established at both the national and community levels, the institute says, to ensure that evaluations accurately measure the impact of obesity-prevention programs.

The committee lays out 83 such potential indicators in the report, which you can browse through online in an interactive tool. The indicators are tied to one of five main goals: improving the physical-activity environment, improving the food and beverage environment, improving the messaging environment, improving health care and work sites, and improving school and child-care environments.

In schools, the IOM calls for the promotion of physical activity, nutrition standards, and food literacy. The institute also recommends child-care providers include physical activity.

Ultimately, the IOM suggests that an obesity-evaluation task force be set up to oversee and implement the National Obesity Evaluation Plan. The institute deliberately did not specify who would establish or make up the task force, however.

"Even modest improvement in evaluation has the potential to provide clarity and refined direction in addressing the obesity epidemic," the committee concludes.

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