Since 2015, a collaborative project between Public Health England (PHE) and Leeds Beckett University (LBU) has been underway to revolutionise how we tackle the complex problem of obesity. Today we see the result that project, with the launch of a new national strategy – ‘Health Matters: Whole Systems Approach to Obesity’.

MoreLife’s founder CEO, Professor Paul Gately, acted as lead researcher for the project through his work at Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Sport. He believes that today’s publication marks a step change in the way we tackle obesity in this country.

WHAT DOES THIS NEW RESEARCH MEAN FOR PUBLIC HEALTH POLICIES ON OBESITY?

Paul Gately
OBESITY IN ENGLAND

Across England, the majority of adults have overweight or obesity, with 1 in 3 children following the same path by the time they leave primary school. In fact, obesity is one of the most pervasive and expensive public health issues of our time, with an estimated cost to wider society of £27 billion per year.

However, it is also an issue that public health teams have struggled to address on a local level. Obesity is a complex issue with various contributing factors, not least the increasingly obesogenic environment in which we live. Over the past twenty years of working in this field, I’ve found that many approaches have focused on finding single solutions to single problems, with organisations working independently and in isolation. While the singular solutions that we often hear about in the media, like the Sugar Tax, may have a role to play, they simply lack the scale to tackle the whole problem effectively.

HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS USE WHOLE SYSTEMS APPROACHES?

Over the past four years, myself and the team at LBU have developed the Whole Systems Approach framework and the accompanying resources which will enable local authorities to connect the various dots. In time, we want to see all agencies transition to a systems way of working to better address issues like obesity, drawing on local assets to make the health of local people a priority for everyone.

Our flagship OneLife Suffolk service is just one example of how local authorities have worked with MoreLife and LBU to embed an integrated, whole systems approach to obesity over the past few years – the benefits of which the residents of Suffolk continue to reap. Since it’s launch in 2016, Suffolk County Council have worked in partnership with MoreLife and key local stakeholders to support people to improve their health, with over 35,000 residents accessing a health intervention during the first two years of the service. At the same time, we work with workplaces and other organisations in Suffolk to help influence the environmental drivers of poor health.

With LBU and MoreLife experts already working closely with colleagues in Amsterdam on similar projects, the potential applications of this research aren’t just limited to the UK. We’ve seen interest peaked across the globe, and today’s publication of the whole systems approach to obesity and accompanying resources could be the first step to tackling the global obesity crisis.

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