Writing a Prescription for Obesity Prevention
It is hard to overstate the influence that doctors and health plans can have on the health choices of individuals. In today’s information-heavy world, where people are bombarded with health messages day in and day out, the first casualty is often clarity. Useful, clear, and evidence-based messages get lost in the static of websites and the 24-hour news cycle. Doctors, healthcare facilities, and health insurance plans can be the antidote to this, offering what most others can’t: personal, reliable, and well-regarded sources not only of health information but also of inspiration to actually make healthy changes.
Doctors and other healthcare providers see patients across the arc of their lives, providing great opportunity to guide them toward making healthy eating and activity choices. They can be role models for healthy lifestyles. And as members of the broader community, they can bring their knowledge and standing to advocate for healthy changes that reach people well beyond the walls of the clinic.
Hospitals, clinics, and similar facilities can support healthy changes by making sure they promote healthy environments for patients as well as visitors and staff. This includes ensuring not only healthy choices in cafeterias but also bans on fast food, sugary drinks, and similarly unhealthy choices, which have taken a foothold in many hospitals, skewing patients’ views of their healthfulness. (1)
Health insurance plans, with their broad reach, can in many ways be the most important influence on the weight control behaviors of patients. They can cover the cost of obesity prevention and treatment; create and promote prevention programs that can be instituted plan wide; and use their status in the community to support and sponsor wide-ranging prevention efforts, such as healthy meals in school, jogging and walking events, and the education of policymakers. (2)
Recent research in children suggests that health care clinic interventions on their own—in the absence of broader community strategies to prevent obesity—can lead to behavior change but may not be enough to lead to sizable improvements in weight. (3,4) Combining clinic efforts with community-wide changes offers a promising approach, and one that the healthcare sector has begun to pursue in earnest, with efforts such as the U.S.-based Collaborate for Healthy Weight initiative. (5)
This section of The Obesity Prevention Source summarizes obesity prevention recommendations for the healthcare setting, based on a review of expert guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list on each page, as well as the links to useful toolkits and other resources.
Routinely measuring body mass index (BMI) and counseling patients on healthy eating and activity are critically important ways that healthcare providers can help prevent obesity.
Hospitals should make it easy for staff and patients to make healthy food choices, such as by offering nutritious foods and beverages and limiting junk food and sugary beverages.
Health insurance providers have an important role to play in obesity prevention, from covering preventive services to supporting community-wide obesity prevention efforts.
Every healthcare professional’s training toolbox must include the skills to counsel patients about obesity prevention and lifestyle change. Clinicians can also be strong advocates for obesity prevention efforts in their communities.
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.