Wouldn't it be great if science finally gave us the silver bullet that would eliminate overweight and obesity -- and improve overall health at the same time? Would it be frustrating to learn that this miraculous intervention has been in front of our noses all the time? Prepare to be amazed and flustered: The "silver bullet" is improved lifestyle habits with a healthy dose of encouragement and changes from the community and its infrastructure.
Community Interventions for Health Study
An ambitious study, Community Interventions for Health , CIH, funded by the Oxford Health Alliance, was the main topic at the ninth OxHA Summit held in conjunction with the Excellence in Diabetes conference held in Istanbul earlier this month.
Community Interventions for Health, ongoing since 2008 , involved 750,000 people in four nations: China, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The team theorized that by making small changes within structures of communities -- medical care, public health, community leaders -- positive changes would begin in the lifestyles of community residents and would continue over time due to the changes in the communities' infrastructures.
Changes sought in this research, through changes in knowledge, attitudes and behavior in healthy eating, physical activity and use of tobacco.
The desired changes came about through a four-step program in each of the nations: health education of individuals and families; social marketing of lifestyle improvements to residents and the community; mobilizing the community to institute the changes; structural changes in the community, resulting in changes in society itself.
Outcomes of Community Interventions for Health Study
The community interventions instituted through the research team's approach were reported to have positive results in the three desired areas of change in China, India and Mexico in periods of 18 months to 24 months. Dr. Pamela Dyson , CEO of the Oxford Health Alliance, explained , "These are very small changes, but they are over a short period of time, and our view is that if we can sustain those changes, then we can start reversing a lot of the trends that we see and reduce the risk factors for noncommunicable diseases."
The changes in the three lifestyle factors have resulted in positive changes in risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The changes have been small, project leaders admit, but the 18-month to 24-month window is a brief period of time. It is hoped that the changes instituted in these communities will be sustained now that the infrastructure has changed, and that other communities the world over will heed the lessons to be learned and make such changes on their own.
Beatriz Champagne , Ph.D., MS, BS, summed up the implications of CIH succinctly by noting, "Community programs are where we need to be. All the theories in the world are no good if they can't be put into practice. "
It is encouraging to know that small lifestyle changes can not only positively affect trends of overweight and obesity, but actually diminish risk factors for chronic diseases that affect quality of life. Community leaders and individuals alike should heed the lessons of CIH and begin to institute them in their communities and families. We might just all be healthier and happier for the efforts.