The first step in the development of these policy strategies was to identify that a problem existed with childhood obesity and frame the problem so that it could brought to light and intervention strategies debated. While some of the framing of this issue may have been based upon misinformation, policymakers did attempt to frame the problem which is in line with the Australian policy development cycle. This initial framing is an example of how misinformation can lead to poor policy decisions. When looking at childhood obesity from a policy perspective it is imperative to understand the difference between obesity prevention and obesity treatment and this has often been confused in attempts to develop policies for the Australian people (O'Dea 2005).
The Australian policy cycle is comprised of stages including problem identification, analysis of policy options, policy instrument, consultation, coordination, decision, implementation, and evaluation. While this policy process seems sequential, it is important to note that there may be times when different aspects of the cycle need to be revisited or taken out of order. Where this policy response begins to veer away from the policy development cycle is in the manner in which implements and evaluates the success. Healthy Weight 2008 calls for the engagement of individual, family, community, and organizational stakeholders in the intervention development process as well as collaboration amongst stakeholder groups to ensure the best possible outcomes. However, the strategic plan does not see past its initial four-year phase and does not establish long-term planning or security such as funding streams or success reporting mechanisms. In order for any plan to be truly successful it must have built into it an evaluation process so that progress can be tracked and the plan can be changed to meet the needs of the individuals being serviced.
Key Stakeholders Influence on Policy Response
Stakeholders have played a significant role in the identification of childhood obesity as a problem in Australia as well as ensuring that steps are taken to provide effective intervention programs. These have included community stakeholders such as groups, schools, communities, organizations, sports clubs, and parents. Stakeholders were actively engaged in the policy response process and encouraged to see the mutual benefit that resolution to this epidemic could provide. Stakeholders were encouraged to engage in cross sector collaboration which helped to address the many causal possibilities associated with obesity and to recognize that many of these causes are not health related. This coupled with actions such as the healthy schools canteen program, which regulated what foods can be sold in the school environment, provided valuable motivation for the cultural and behavioral changes necessary to sustain long-term results.
Policy Responses and Evidential Underpinnings
The policy responses have encouraged a shift in focus from looking at obesity as an epidemic that needs to be blamed on something such as poor parenting skills or low socioeconomic status to focus on the views of potential participants in intervention programs (Heshketh et al. 2005). These viewpoints and consultations with engaged individuals has provided valuable evidence into the multi-faceted nature of this epidemic and has allowed for the introduction of multi-level responses so that all causal factors can be addressed resulting in behavioral change.
In Australia, the federal government continues to reject legislation or regulations of the food supply utilizing the argument that it is not the government's role to regulation individuals in this manner (Coveney 2008). Governmental efforts have instead focused on the recruitment of key stakeholders in scenarios like Healthy Weight 2008 who are then given the authority to engage individuals in group in their own self-regulation of individual health efforts (Coveney 2008).
Policy Implementation and Evaluation
While it is widely understood that in order to determine the sustainability of effective intervention programs, one must evaluate their effectiveness, program evaluation was not built into this policy response. While the last decade has shown significant progress in the establishment of best practice strategies and the beginning of prevention and management strategies, there is still a considerable amount of effort that will need to be expended before this issue will find resolution. While the identification of childhood obesity as a national priority has been phenomenal, the lack of action is a frustration
It is important to always look at the many levels of an issue and take into account the influences that can play a role in the development of a problem. This can include major life stage transitions such as childhood into youth and youth to adulthood as these may be significant factors in the search for effective intervention strategies. We can learn from the first stage of policy response and not lose sight of the importance of maintaining reducing childhood obesity as a public health goal. Therefore it will be important for attention to be paid to the development of more comprehensive policy responses that can address the scale and scope of the problem.
Further we have learned that basing interventions on misinformation will not lead to programs that can truly address the issue of obesity (O'Dea 2005). Therefore we can follow the recommendations of O'Dea (2005) who states that a health education approach that is based on solid research and theory is the only way to design, plan, and implement an effective strategy. Rather than utilizing research information to place blame for obesity we should utilize information about the barriers to healthy eating to inform program development and interventions (O'Dea 2005).
Childhood obesity is an epidemic that impacts a large portion of children throughout the world. There has been a great deal of controversy over what the cause of this phenomenon is and who should be blamed. Yet what we have learned is that there are many factors that influence childhood obesity and that rather than looking to place blame we should target programs and initiatives at the many levels and factors that are influencing our youth and their families today. Policy responses to this issue have set this in motion but further efforts will be needed to see these initiatives through as well as to evaluate their effectiveness.
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