COMPACT is a groundbreaking international collaboration that applies the principles of systems science to community-based childhood obesity interventions.
Young children who are overweight or obese not only face greater physiological, psychological, and social challenges, but are also more likely to be obese as adolescents and adults. In the United States and other developed countries, the childhood overweight and obesity rate approaches one-third. In the US, obesity prevalence has doubled among infants, toddlers and preschool-age children since the 1970s. Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in the prevalence of overweight and obesity also appear to be widening.
A number of interventions have attempted to address childhood obesity. Unfortunately, many of them have failed to produce a substantial and sustained decrease in obesity rates. Our goal is to help understand how interventions that have succeeded in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity have done so.
Some of the most successful childhood obesity interventions have used a “whole-of-community” approach. This type of approach acknowledges and embraces the complex nature of childhood obesity, which is driven by a number of overlapping sources of influence within a community on children’s biology, behavior, and environment. Whole-of-community interventions incorporate stakeholders who play important roles in children’s lives, including parents, health practitioners, day care providers, and policymakers. Some interventions have done this by recruiting representatives from stakeholder groups into “steering committees” that work with intervention experts to design and implement obesity prevention efforts in their communities. The central, underlying hypothesis of our research concerns how these interventions effect positive change: by forming and working with a steering committee and leveraging individual relationships within the community to spread knowledge about and engagement with the intervention.
An animation of how a steering committee of stakeholder representatives can have a positive impact on a community’s capacity to effect meaningful, sustainable changes reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity:
In order to test our hypothesis about how interventions can effectively operate, we have developed computational simulations of successful, completed obesity interventions, including “Shape Up Somerville” in Massachusetts and “Romp & Chomp” in Victoria, Australia. We will refine and calibrate these models using data from ongoing interventions, including “Shape Up Under-5,” an updated version of Shape Up Somerville targeting underserved children age 0-5 years and their caregivers. Our long-term goal is to develop a tool that can be used by communities to help design interventions, allowing them to maximize their ability to reduce childhood obesity.
Christina D. Economos (Tufts University)
Erin Hennessy (Tufts University)
Steve Allender (Deakin University)
Melanie Nichols (Deakin University)
Boyd Swinburn (Deakin University/University of Auckland)
Peter Hovmand (Washington University)