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A secondary analysis of the childhood obesity prevention Cochrane Review through a wider determinants of health lens: implications for research funders, researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Nobles, James and Summerbell, Carolyn and Brown, Tamara and Jago, Russell and Moore, Theresa (2021) 'A secondary analysis of the childhood obesity prevention Cochrane Review through a wider determinants of health lens: implications for research funders, researchers, policymakers and practitioners.', International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity., 18 (1).


Background Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are often regarded as the gold standard of evidence, and subsequently go on to inform policymaking. Cochrane Reviews synthesise this type of evidence to create recommendations for practice, policy, and future research. Here, we critically appraise the RCTs included in the childhood obesity prevention Cochrane Review to understand the focus of these interventions when examined through a wider determinants of health (WDoH) lens. Methods We conducted a secondary analysis of the interventions included in the Cochrane Review on “Interventions for Preventing Obesity in Children”, published since 1993. All 153 RCTs were independently coded by two authors against the WDoH model using an adaptive framework synthesis approach. We used aspects of the Action Mapping Tool from Public Health England to facilitate our coding and to visualise our findings against the 226 perceived causes of obesity. Results The proportion of interventions which targeted downstream (e.g. individual and family behaviours) as opposed to upstream (e.g. infrastructure, environmental, policy) determinants has not changed over time (from 1993 to 2015), with most intervention efforts (57.9%) aiming to change individual lifestyle factors via education-based approaches. Almost half of the interventions (45%) targeted two or more levels of the WDoH. Where interventions targeted some of the wider determinants, this was often achieved via upskilling teachers to deliver educational content to children. No notable difference in design or implementation was observed between interventions targeting children of varying ages (0–5 years, 6–12 years, 13–18 years). Conclusions This study highlights that interventions, evaluated via RCTs, have persisted to focus on downstream, individualistic determinants of obesity over the last 25 years, despite the step change in our understanding of its complex aetiology. We hope that the findings from our analysis will challenge research funders, researchers, policymakers and practitioners to reflect upon, and critique, the evidence-based paradigm in which we operate, and call for a shift in focus of new evidence which better accounts for the complexity of obesity.

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Publisher statement:© The Author(s). 2021 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Date accepted:06 January 2021
Date deposited:10 March 2021
Date of first online publication:10 February 2021
Date first made open access:10 March 2021

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