Health Care

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.

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.