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Improving a regional community-based obesity prevention programme

Findings from research into a community-based obesity prevention programme have resulted in a local NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) implementing substantial change to tackle the health issue.

Geoff Middleton, Hannah Henderson and Donna Evans, from the School of Sport and Exercise Science, conducted an in-depth investigation into the experiences of senior health officials, public health workers and community members, of running an obesity prevention programme in North East Lincolnshire.

The team explored the experiences of three stakeholder groups who had administered and taken part in the North East Lincolnshire Strategic Health Improvement Partnership Group’s Obesity Prevention and Reduction Strategy in 2006.

The three broad objectives of the project were to promote intervention strategies to target specific populations and encourage behaviour change; to develop partnerships to define clear prevention and management processes; and to target specific interventions that focus on health inequalities.

Recent reports indicate that community-based obesity prevention programmes have been successful in reducing obesity in developed nations but, until now, most opinion was formed from a purely theoretical standpoint. This research looked at how such programmes perform in the real world.

The study explored the social and psychological mechanisms; assessed the extent of activity meeting the programme’s aims; evaluated the conceptual impact of this activity on current community key partners including local authority services and members of the community; and explored stakeholders’ views on the implementation of the scheme.

It revealed that current intervention activity was tackling underlying causes of obesity within North East Lincolnshire and behaviour change was taking place in a range of community groups. However, communication amongst the diverse and expanding workforce, the marketing of current services to the public and the integrating of services were seen as requiring development.

"Our findings suggested that communication between public health workers and the community could be a lot stronger. If there was that cohesion, we might find that services were delivered with better effect."

The findings had a substantial impact on the programme, with North East Lincolnshire PCT allocating finance for key employment positions in relation to the study’s findings.

The research was supported by a grant from the authority and was disseminated via a comprehensive technical report, an international conference presentation with the Nutrition Society and a peer-reviewed journal publication with Health Promotion International, which is affiliated to the World Health Organisation.

The technical report was provided directly to key decision makers as well as being distributed to the groups accessing the scheme.

The project has contributed to further local and regional debate relating to programme monitoring, service alliances and marketing and communication strategies.

This has led to further funding by North East Lincolnshire PCT for the team to conduct additional research. This includes investigating the changes based on this case study, as well as further grants to research other programmes such as the Food for Fitness team and the review of the current Specialist Health Promotion Service Portfolio in North East Lincolnshire.