Background and objectives: The European Union -as well as other parts of the world- faces a major challenge of increasing incidence of overweight/obesity. In particular, the increase in childhood obesity gives rise to a strong imperative for immediate action. Yet, little is known about the effectiveness of community interventions, and further research in this field is needed. There is, however, a growing consensus that such research should start from the paradigm that the current living environments tend to counteract healthy lifestyles. Questioning these environments thoroughly can help to develop new pathways for sustainable health-promoting communities. Against this background, the IDEFICS (Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants) study developed and implemented innovative community-oriented intervention programmes for obesity prevention and healthy lifestyle primarily in children aged 2-10 years in eight European countries: Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Cyprus.
Materials and methods: The IDEFICS community-oriented intervention study mobilised an integrated set of interventional efforts at different levels of society, with the aim of facilitating the adoption of a healthy obesity-preventing lifestyle. The overall programme has been composed of 10 modules: three at community level, six at school level and one for parents. The main focus was on diet, physical activity and stress-coping capacity. The sphere of action encompassed both children and their (grand) parents, schools, local public authorities and influential stakeholders in the community. All materials for the interventions were centrally developed and culturally adapted.
Results: So far, the following has been achieved: focus group research, literature review and expert consultations were done in an early phase as a basis for the development of the intervention modules. The intervention mapping protocol was followed as guide for structuring the intervention research. The overall intervention programme’s duration was 2 years, but a longer-term follow-up programme is under development.
Conclusions: This large-scale European effort is expected to contribute significantly to the understanding of this major public health challenge.
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