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Open Access Research article

Mapping service activity: the example of childhood obesity schemes in England

Catherine Aicken1*, Helen Roberts2 and Lisa Arai3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Research Department of Infection and Population Health, University College London, Mortimer Market Centre, off Capper Street, London WC1E 6JB, UK

2 General and Adolescent and Paediatrics Unit, University College London Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1EH, UK

3 School of Health and Social Care, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, Tees Valley, TS1 3BA, UK

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:310  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-310

Published: 4 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Childhood obesity is high on the policy agenda of wealthier nations, and many interventions have been developed to address it. This work describes an overview of schemes for obese and overweight children and young people in England, and the 'mapping' approach we used.

Methods

Our search strategy, inclusion criteria and coding frame had to be suitable for describing a potentially large number of schemes within a short timeframe. Data were collected from key informants, scheme publicity and reports, and via a web-survey. To be included, schemes had to be based in England, follow a structured programme lasting at least two weeks, promote healthy weight, and be delivered exclusively to overweight and/or obese children and young people (age range 4-18). Data were entered into a coding frame recording similar information for each scheme, including any underpinning research evidence, evaluation or monitoring reports. Priority questions were identified in consultation with colleagues from the Department of Health and the Cross Government Obesity Unit.

Results

Fifty-one schemes were identified. Some operated in multiple areas, and by using estimates of the number of schemes provided by multi-site scheme leads, we found that between 314 and 375 local programmes were running at any time. Uncertainty is largely due to the largest scheme provider undergoing rapid expansion at the time of the mapping exercise and therefore able to provide only an estimate of the number of programmes running.

Many schemes were similar in their approach, had been recently established and were following NICE guidelines on interventions to promote healthy weight. Rigorous evaluation was rare.

Conclusions

Our methods enabled us to produce a rapid overview of service activity across a wide geographic area and a range of organisations and sectors. In order to develop the evidence base for childhood obesity interventions, rigorous evaluation of these schemes is required. This overview can serve as a starting point for evaluations of interventions to address obesity. More generally, a rapid and systematic approach of this type is transferable to other types of service activity in health and social care, and may be a tool to inform public health planning.