Translating Epidemiology Into Policy to Prevent Childhood Obesity: The Case for Promoting Physical Activity in School Settings
Childhood obesity is a serious public health problem resulting from energy imbalance (when the intake of energy is greater than the amount of energy expended through physical activity). Numerous health authorities have identified policy interventions as promising strategies for creating population-wide improvements in physical activity. This case study focuses on energy expenditure through physical activity (with a particular emphasis on school-based physical education [PE]). Policy-relevant evidence for promoting physical activity in youth may take numerous forms, including epidemiologic data and other supporting evidence (e.g., qualitative data). The implementation and evaluation of school PE interventions leads to a set of lessons related to epidemiology and evidence-based policy. These include the need to: (i) enhance the focus on external validity, (ii) develop more policy-relevant evidence on the basis of “natural experiments,” (iii) understand that policy making is political, (iv) better articulate the factors that influence policy dissemination, (v) understand the real-world constraints when implementing policy in school environments, and (vi) build transdisciplinary teams for policy progress. The issues described in this case study provide leverage points for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers as they seek to translate epidemiology to policy.