The Associated Press wrote today about employers that are offering their workers financial incentives for losing weight. Too bad they’re unlikely to work, the AP quotes some experts as saying, noting that while cash rewards have been shown to increase smoking quit rates, losing weight is a whole different ballgame. For one thing, you can toss your cigs forever, but food is a necessity.
Still, we were curious about how other strategies that have been used against tobacco might apply to the obesity problem:
Taxes: Cigarettes are taxed by the feds, states and some localities (NYC has a $1.50 per pack tax). In the obesity arena, the debate has focused on sugary sodas and drinks. It’s unclearwhether those taxes actually work to curb consumption, though, and the case for them is as much about plugging holes in state budgets as public health.
Marketing restrictions: The 1998 tobacco settlement was chock-full of restrictions on marketing cigarettes to youth, and more curbs followed. There have been plenty of calls — including one from the White House’s recent report on childhood obesity — for food companies to pull back on their marketing of less-than-healthful foods to kids. ( Here’s how the Center for Science in the Public Interest rates different food and entertainment companies on their marketing practices.)
Also important is making the alternatives — i.e. fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy — more appealing, Steven Kelder, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, tells the Health Blog. Right now there’s not a lot of marketing support behind those products compared to things like sugary cereals and sodas.
Aversion: If you’ve ridden the NYC subways, you’ve seen the grody health department adsshowing soda being poured from a bottle and turning into a massive fat blob as it hits the glass. They’re similar to graphic print and TV ads that illustrate the health consequences of smoking — and are so stomach-turning that cigarette makers are suing NYC. That kind of anti-fat ad alone “isn’t going to reduce BMIs,” says Kelder. “But it does generate buzz, and gets people talking.”
Stigma: Dirty looks and bans in public areas reflect that smoking is now considered a disgusting, unhealthy habit rather than an acceptable social practice. But stigmatizing obesity “is definitely not the way to go with children” and is “wrong” for adults, too, says Kelder. Research has shown that it may actually discourage better eating habits as well as reducing motivation to exercise. More important are positive efforts like school- and community-based programs that teach kids about nutrition and physical activity, he says.