What Really Works to Reduce Childhood Obesity? Stakeholders Want Evidence
Between September 2005 and December 2007, Public Health Informatics Institute staff conducted telephone interviews and met with diverse stakeholders involved with childhood obesity to learn about their needs for information.
According to the principal investigator, the project found the following:
- There is an enormous demand and need for scientifically robust evidence about program effectiveness or "what works" to reduce childhood obesity.
- The information stakeholders need depends on their funding sources and areas of focus.
- Stakeholders want a clearinghouse where they can access information about childhood obesity and learn what others are doing.
The project also produced recommendations for next steps. See Recommendations.
From September 2005 through December 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) gave the Task Force for Child Survival and Development a solicited grant of $300,811. The Public Health Informatics Institute is part of the task force.
Increasing numbers of public, private and nonprofit agencies and organizations have become involved in efforts to address the well-documented public health problem of childhood obesity. As an evidence base built about effective prevention and treatment practices, several national and state-based organizations asked RWJF for guidance in developing information systems that could meet their needs and be shared with others, without duplicating systems already under development.
The Public Health Informatics Institute, a program of the Decatur, Ga.-based Task Force for Child Survival and Development, was established with RWJF funds in 2002 to strengthen the information systems used in public health practice (see Grant Results on ID# 053531).
Staff at the Public Health Informatics Institute conducted 37 structured telephone interviews in March and April 2006 with representatives of stakeholder groups to develop a shared understanding of their information needs related to childhood obesity. Stakeholders, who were involved in a wide variety of programs related to research, evaluation, education, communication, policy and advocacy, included:
- Federal government
- State governments
- Parents and families
- Health care professionals and organizations
- Community and nonprofit organizations
These interviews were supplemented by in-depth meetings and discussions from September to November 2007 with representatives of the Arkansas Department of Health, which had been active in trying to reduce childhood obesity in the state through measuring the BMI of all school children (RWJF supported this effort with a program called Information for Action), and the Santa Cruz, California Department of Health, which had focused on the Hispanic children in the community.
According to David A. Ross, Sc.D., the principal investigator, the telephone interviews and meetings yielded the following findings and observations:
- There is an enormous demand for scientifically robust evidence about program effectiveness, or "what works," but it is not readily available. The need for evaluation data that can demonstrate linkages among childhood obesity, inactivity and nutrition is especially strong.
- The information stakeholders need depends on their funding sources and areas of focus. For example, a school system is likely to be interested in documenting a link between obesity and the student test scores that affect their federal funding. Understanding what motivates a stakeholder group helps to clarify what kinds of information they need.
- Stakeholders want access to a clearinghouse of information about childhood obesity. Such a centralized repository could include prevalence and incidence statistics, information about what others are doing and information about programs and approaches that have demonstrated effectiveness.
- Evaluation data that demonstrate the impact of obesity prevention initiatives can be used to garner interest from new political allies. This can be especially important if leadership changes erode support for an existing initiative.
- Opportunities to "come together" with peers involved in childhood obesity are tremendously valued and increase community connectedness and partnerships. Many stakeholders indicated that opportunities for such connections are limited.
Staff at the Public Health Informatics Institute made the following recommendations in a report to RWJF:
- Create a national strategy to guide the development, collection and use of information related to preventing and treating childhood obesity. The strategy should consider stakeholder goals and objectives, the information needed to support those goals and objectives, and the plans necessary to develop and implement a system for gathering and sharing that information.
- Explore opportunities to support rigorous evaluation of obesity initiatives and to disseminate information and tools that allow practitioners to identify and use effective evaluation methodologies.
- Provide support to allow communities and groups to come together regularly to learn what others are doing to address childhood obesity, to share lessons learned and to increase community connectedness around the topic.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Planning for the Development of Information Systems for Childhood Obesity Programs
Task Force for Child Survival and Development (Decatur, GA)
Dates: September 2005 to December 2007
David A. Ross, Sc.D.
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Assessment of Childhood Obesity Information Needs: Findings from Stakeholder Interviews. Decatur, Ga.: Public Health Informatics Institute, August 2006. Available online.
Assessment of Childhood Obesity Information Needs: Final Report and Recommendations. Decatur, Ga.: Public Health Informatics Institute, August 2007.
Charting the Information and Systems Needed to Support Effective Response to Childhood Obesity. Decatur, Ga.: Public Health Informatics Institute, December 2007.
Report prepared by: Eve Shapiro
Reviewed by: Karyn Feiden
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Terry L. Bazzarre