Contemporary prevalence data provides little confidence that national childhood obesity targets can be met using existing approaches (National Obesity Observatory, 2012). The harmful effects of obesity are not only felt by the individuals, through worsened health risks, but also financially; obesity-related illnesses costs the NHS an estimated £5.1 billion a year. Although governments have repeatedly attempted to address this issue, their approaches have been ineffective.
Local Authorities and partners are central to improving the prevention and treatment of obesity. Whilst, Public Health England, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health are exploring how to make greater in-roads into tackling obesity by developing whole systems approaches’ that act across the local system. Yet, little is known in the literature around the internal policy network structure among these organisations that would facilitate or inhibit the obesity agenda.
Like all organisations, Local Authorities (LA) are social structures, they a made up of individuals who co-ordinate and co-operate to deliver tasks. In delivery of obesity policy LAs face several challenges: first, motivating people to do what the LA wants them to do; second; deciding what should be done; third; accomplishing what needs to be done; and finally; acquiring the needed resources. Furthermore, the borders of the LA are not fixed or clear, and have numerous stakeholders who must be placated or convinced to co-operate. In affect they are a form of collective action with a distinct division of labour and power, they are networks. As such social network concepts, measurements, and propositions can be used to show the formal network structure that exists in LAs. Furthermore, it can explore informal emerging networks that dilute or enhance official power and centrality in these designed networks. How an LA is formally and informally structured will impact upon the delivery of obesity policy. Therefore, the central aim of this study is to work across different types of LAs, and using social network analysis compare and contrast policy structure of obesity with different measures of success.
The most recent call from Public Health England emphasises the need to establish a multidisciplinary, whole systems approach to obesity. A significant factor within the whole systems approach is to better understand and subsequently modify the how obesity policy is delivered. However, such data is inherently difficult to collect, especially on a large scale. It is timely therefore, that we utilise a network approach to better understand and evaluate the effect of LA structure on obesity.
It is the value extracted from these networks which make this an innovative opportunity. By understanding which structures facilitate successful obesity policy will be of great importance to central Government, LA’s and all other significant bodies charged with decreasing levels of obesity in the population.
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Please contact Dr Paul Widdop or Dr Claire Griffiths for further details
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +44(0)113 81 29113/+44(0)113 81 26566