After four-and-a-half years, the Science and Technology in Childhood Obesity Policy (STOP) project came to an end on 30 November 2022. The STOP project brought together 24 international research and advocacy organisations.
The goal from the outset was to generate scientifically sound and policy-relevant evidence on the factors that have contributed to the spread of childhood obesity in European countries, and on the effects of alternative policy options available to address the problem.
The project was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and was co-ordinated and managed overall by a team at Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine (UK) led by Professor Franco Sassi. As a partner in the STOP consortium, the World Obesity Federation led by Dr Hannah Brinsden, was responsible for the project’s dissemination, communication, and exploitation strategy.
As a result of STOP, there is now a stronger evidence base and a better understanding of opportunities for advancing policies to address childhood obesity. The evidence has revealed what interventions work best in addressing the drivers of childhood obesity, particularly in socially disadvantaged children, and how these interventions should be designed and implemented to ensure they are effective.
Key achievements of the STOP project
A core aim of the STOP project was to generate evidence on the factors behind childhood obesity and, so far, the consortium has delivered over 55 scientific papers available online in a wide range of impactful peer-reviewed journals.
The evidence-based research has led to some key achievements which include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Setting the foundations for a standardised surveillance system of socioeconomic inequalities in childhood obesity across European countries, and for an extension of the COSI initiative to the measurement of BMI in kindergarten children (age 4 and 5).
- Advancing our understanding of the determinants of childhood obesity, including interactions between the external exposome (environment) and the internal exposome, strengthening the evidence that risk starts before birth, and shedding light on some of the biological pathways that link ultra-processed food consumption and childhood obesity (see Obesity Reviews supplement).
- Advancing understanding of the effectiveness of interventions and policies, with a particular focus on their impact on reducing social disparities (see Obesity Reviews supplement).
- Enhancing the monitoring of public and private sector policies to improve the food environment, applying Food-EPI and BIA-Obesity tools at national and European levels to understand which policies have been implemented and to what extent, setting the foundations of an accountability framework for government and industry actions.
- Producing knowledge translation tools to support policymakers when implementing policies to address childhood obesity, in the form of a set of WHO-STOP policy briefs covering reformulation, marketing regulation, front of pack labelling, school physical activity programmes, nudges, fiscal policies, and primary care interventions.
- Developing a stakeholder analysis, cooperation, and accountability framework to support a viable multi-stakeholder approach in the conception, design and implementation of childhood obesity policies.
- Providing support for innovation projects run by start-ups and grassroots organisations, aimed at developing novel approaches to prevent and address childhood obesity.
- Developing the Health-GPS microsimulation tool, providing a flexible tool to simulate the future impacts of policies modelling the complex associations between key risk factors and a range of noncommunicable diseases.
These key achievements were discussed further at the final STOP conference held in Rome on 21 and 22 November 2022. STOP project partners and other experts came together to deliver and discuss the key findings and implications of the STOP project outputs for future research and policy priorities.
Overall, STOP has successfully delivered on its expected outputs, but despite these research successes, the evidence has revealed that it is necessary to have realistic expectations about translation to policy. With determined effort, greater policy impact will be more likely if all work together for synergies between policies, particularly synergies between human health and environmental sustainability. A health-in-all policies framework is essential if evidence is to be translated into effective policy during a perfect storm of global challenges.
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