At the behest of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) has issued a report examining “the approaches to data collection, analysis, and interpretation that have been used in recent reports on obesity prevalence and trends at the national, state, and local level, particularly among U.S. children, adolescents, and young adults.” Titled Assessing Prevalence and Trends in Obesity: Navigating the Evidence, the report reviews the literature to date, providing “a framework for assessing and interpreting published reports,” as well as “recommendations for improving future data collection efforts[] and filling data gaps.”

Given the various challenges presented by data collection—such as inconsistencies among data sources; insufficient sample size; discrepancies between measured and self-reported data index; and the limitations inherent in trend estimates and interpretations—NAS offers the Assessing Prevalence and Trends (APT) Framework to help stakeholders, policymakers and other “end users” compare various studies and reports. To this end, the framework directs these end users to (i) identify a goal or information need; (ii) assess publish reports to determine how population, methodology and analysis inform the interpretation of the estimate; and (iii) interpret their findings in light of their information needs and decision making.

“The assessment of obesity prevalence and trends estimates continues to change with technological, methodological, and statistical advancements. Some of the inconsistencies and limitations that currently exist in the literature represent prime opportunities for improvement and progress,” concludes NAS, which also urges RWJF and other national groups to convene a cross-section of relevant stakeholders to set standards for data collection and reporting. “For this reason, the committee recommends that the research community design and conduct studies to strengthen the evidence base and improve methodological approaches to assessing obesity.”