Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced, as reported in the New York Times, “a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade.” This is encouraging news because kids in that age group who are obese are five times more likely to struggle with weight as adults, with significant consequences for their health.
The overall news about obesity is mixed—no one is claiming victory yet. However, the data represent “the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic.”
More to my point, the drop in childhood obesity suggests an impact by health communication efforts to encourage better eating and exercise habits. These include, most notably, campaigns by Michelle Obama and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Yes, Bloomberg came across as quixotic and even a little nutty with his ban on big gulp sodas. But his efforts may be part of a trend. The CDC reports that children consume fewer calories from sugary drinks than they did a decade ago.
I’m reminded of another health communication campaign that began in earnest 50 years ago. In 1964, Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General was published, officially linking smoking to a raft of health problems including cancer.
In 1965, 42.4% of American adults smoked, according to the CDC. Today that portion is 19%.
Of course, health communication is one cause among several that have produced these effects. Still, it is no overstatement to claim that effective communication about health is a powerful tool in improving our lives.
The Department of Communication is getting in the game. We offer a Health Communication track in the B.S. degree in Communication, an interdisciplinary Health Communication minor is in the works, and we are in the discussion stage of a master’s degree. Look for more information about these efforts in future posts.