Introducing OPAL to stakeholders
A tale of two French towns
When the two French towns of Fleurbaix and Laventie showed that a whole-of-community approach could have a major impact on turning around childhood obesity, South Australia was ready to know more.
The French program, called EPODE (translated as ‘together we can prevent childhood obesity’), found that childhood obesity in the two pilot towns did not increase, while in two comparison towns, where there was no community-wide lifestyle program, obesity levels doubled.
Children in the EPODE towns also had a better knowledge of nutrition, had made major changes to their eating habits, and had increased their physical activity. The French approach found that the key to success was involving the whole community – families, local GPs, pharmacists, shop owners, local government, sports and cultural associations, as well as schools.
Now run in over 250 communities throughout Europe, the success of this community-based approach was too strong to ignore.
The need in South Australia
Amongst 4-year olds in South Australia, nearly one in five is overweight or obese, and more than half of South Australia’s adults are overweight or obese.
Being overweight can affect the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of children.
Overweight children are very likely to become overweight adults, with a greatly increased risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and other chronic health problems.
OPAL – Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle – will build on the European success story, working with a range of communities to positively change attitudes and behaviours about healthy eating and physical activity.
For the first five years OPAL was supported by a Scientific Advisory Committee, chaired by Professor Boyd Swinburn, a world leader in healthy weight research and interventions. The committee brought together academics from across a broad field of expertise, and representing each South Australian university to develop the health messages for OPAL.
OPAL is a significant, childhood-obesity prevention initiative that has support from mayors and councils and state government ministers.
The aim of the program is to improve eating and activity patterns of children, through families and communities in OPAL regions, and thereby increase the proportion of 0 to18 year olds in the healthy weight range.