The Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) program was implemented in South Australia between 2009 and 2017.
The OPAL program was informed by the French program, EPODE (translated as ‘together we can prevent childhood obesity’).
The aim of the program was to improve eating and physical activity patterns of South Australian children, through families and communities, and thereby increase the proportion of 0-18 year olds in the healthy weight range and improve their quality of life. The program was implemented across five years in each of 20 South Australian OPAL Communities (plus one in the Northern Territory) in partnership with local councils.
Flinders University OPAL Evaluation Project Report 2016
The Flinders University of South Australia (Flinders) OPAL Evaluation Project measured changes in healthy weight and health-related quality of life as well as changes in eating practices (including fruit, vegetable and discretionary food/drink consumption) and changes in home and school environments, sleep, physical activity and sedentary (screen-time) practices. The community capacity building component of the OPAL program also was evaluated. This evaluation compared OPAL sites in Phase 1 and 2 of the program with matched comparison communities in the same phase.
The evaluation experienced a series of delays. These related to issues with poor data quality, multiple ethics approvals, complexities in geocoding of address data and the resultant delay in delivery of data from SA Health to the Centre for Research and Action in Public Health (CeRAPH) at the University of Canberra, as well as some further clarifications and amendments to the Report in 2019.
There are substantial differences between the OPAL Integrative Evaluation and the Flinders University OPAL Evaluation Project in terms of the data included and the approaches used. This makes comparison of findings of the two evaluations invalid.
In particular, the OPAL Integrative Evaluation includes data only for children aged 4 to 5 years (note the Flinders University OPAL Evaluation Project included data for children aged 9 to11 years) and includes data for four years before OPAL commenced, and two years after OPAL concluded, in each community.
The OPAL Integrative Evaluation’s primary finding is that the OPAL program was associated with a reduction in the prevalence of overweight and obesity for 4-5 year old children.
SA Health notes that:
the greatest effect was seen in the two years after the OPAL program concluded in each community,
this effect was particularly evident in the second year after the OPAL program concluded and this effect was based on smaller amounts of data, and
data from the years before OPAL commenced demonstrates ‘background’ variability from year to year in overweight and obesity prevalence in these communities (unrelated to OPAL).
The OPAL Integrative Evaluation also includes findings about the influence of the social environment, the built environment, community leadership and the strength of community partnerships on whether the OPAL program was successful. These provide interesting insights for future programs.
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