Recommendations for research

The Programme Development Group (PDG) recommends that the following research questions should be addressed. It notes that 'effectiveness' in this context relates not only to the size of the effect, but also to cost effectiveness and duration of effect. It also takes into account any harmful or negative side effects.

Who should take action?

Research councils, research commissioners, funders.

1 Monitoring and evaluating community-wide approaches

What is the most effective way to monitor and evaluate community-wide approaches to obesity to ensure:

  • evidence of effectiveness is gathered across the breadth of the local system and

  • data are produced to help local communities adapt and improve their approach?

An action research approach should be considered (see Waterman et al.'s action research: a systematic review and guidance for assessment). Researchers may also wish to refer to Medical Research Council guidance on developing and evaluating complex interventions and using natural experiments to evaluate population health interventions.

2 Factors for effective community-wide approaches

What factors are necessary for an effective and cost-effective community-wide approach to obesity prevention? In particular:

  • How can learning from systemic approaches to other complex problems be applied to obesity prevention?

  • How does the local context affect local engagement, adherence and effectiveness? This includes local population characteristics (for example, age, ethnicity or deprivation levels). It also includes funding arrangements and features of the local environment (such as transport links, access to green space or food outlets).

  • What components are needed to build and sustain successful local community partnerships? This includes how to identify and get local people and professionals involved; the relative benefits of voluntary versus imposed partnerships; and best practice in forming and sustaining partnerships.

  • At what point is partnership working no longer cost effective?

  • How cost effective and practical is it to extend and expand existing obesity prevention programmes to support a whole community, in terms of:

    • geographic coverage

    • variety of contexts

    • number of participants

    • return on investment?

  • How can strategic approaches to obesity be sustained in terms of:

    • funding

    • partnerships

    • volunteer involvement

    • leadership continuity

    • 'champion' participation?

  • How can change best be achieved using a community development approach?

3 Research criteria

Research that specifically aims to improve understanding of community-wide approaches to prevent obesity should not:

  • be conceived, developed and implemented by academics with

  • limited consultation with local practitioners or the local community

  • be limited in terms of the number of situations where it could be transferred to or implemented

  • focus on interventions in one setting (such as an individual school).

See more detail on the gaps in the evidence identified during development of this guidance.