Government obesity policies in England over the past three decades have largely failed because of problems with implementation, lack of learning from past successes or failures, and a reliance on trying to persuade individuals to change their behaviour rather than tackling unhealthy environments. This is the conclusion of new research by a team at the University of Cambridge funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research.
The research, co-authored by Bennett Institute Visiting Fellow Professor Martin White in the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), may help to explain why, after nearly thirty years of government obesity policies, obesity prevalence in England has not fallen and substantial inequalities persist.
“Until recently, there seems to have been an aversion to conducting high quality, independent evaluations, perhaps because they risk demonstrating failure as well as success. But this limits a government’s ability to learn lessons from past policies. This may be potentially compounded by the often relatively short timescales for putting together a strategy or implementing policies.
“Governments need to accompany policy proposals with information that ensures they can be successfully implemented, and with built-in evaluation plans and time frames. Important progress has been made with commissioning evaluations in the last three years. But, we also need to see policies framed in ways that make them readily implementable. We also need to see a continued move away from interventions that rely on individual’s changing their diet and activity, and towards policies that change the environments that encourage people to overeat and to be sedentary in the first place.”