Obesity is linked to several different long-term conditions, such as diabetes, that both decrease quality of life and have resource implications for local authorities as well as the NHS and national government. Tackling obesity has traditionally taken an individual-level approach in which the cause of the problem, and therefore the solution, is assumed to be the individual. However, lack of e.g. physical activity does not lie solely within the control of individuals, such as simply being due to a lack of motivation to exercise. Recognition of this has led to increasing interest in taking joined-up approaches that incorporate information, behaviour change and environmental design (e.g. Heath, 2012).
The Whole Systems Approach for addressing obesity within Local Authorities offers an opportunity to move away from this, often ineffective, individual-level approach to one in which the interaction of individuals and communities with the environment in which they live, socialise and work can be re-engineered to produce a system that facilitates healthy living and resists obesity-promoting behaviours.
Such approaches can involve investment in visible infrastructure and planning initiatives alongside more modest changes, such as “circles of support” to encourage behavior change or the availability of community resources. They target all members of a community and operate at a series of levels to impact on behavior, underpinned by social-ecological models of health and include changes to policies and environments. They have been categorised into four different types (Cavill and Foster, 2004) based on the focus of the intervention: community action programmes; community information campaigns; person-focused techniques; community approaches to environmental change. We propose to base this research on community approaches to environmental change, in which a community or advocacy group makes positive changes to the physical environment (King, 1994) that will embed behavior change to address obesity. A recent Cochrane systematic review (Barker et al., 2015) concluded that while community-wide interventions have had only limited success in increasing physical activity, those interventions that include an environment design aspect have the greatest potential to successfully increase physical activity, and therefore address obesity.
It is insufficient, however, for planners and policy makers to decide, on behalf of its citizens, how the environment can best be changed to promote behaviours that will reduce obesity. The solutions generated may be unacceptable or impractical, leading to communities and individuals feeling further alienated and ostracised. Instead, we propose a programme of PhD research that will take the latest research into behavioural change techniques and use them to co-design – with people who have or who are at a high risk of obesity - environmental changes that will encourage greater levels of physical activity and healthier eating.
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Please contact Dr Fiona Fylan/Professor Chris Gorse for further details
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +44(0)113 81 23931/+44(0)113 81 21941