Building a collaboration to address childhood obesity

The scope and urgency of the childhood obesity epidemic requires comprehensive efforts to increase both healthy eating and physical activity. The new National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) brings together the expertise and resources of three of the country’s leading research funders, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), to accelerate the nation’s progress in reducing childhood obesity.

Although NCCOR launched publicly in February, the momentum for the Collaborative has been building privately since its first 10-person planning committee meeting a little over a year ago.

“The impetus for developing the Collaborative was the recognition of the need to maximize and expedite our knowledge and evidence for population-based obesity prevention,” said Laura Kettel Khan, a founding NCCOR member and senior scientist within CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Forming the Collaborative

A year ago, CDC, NIH and RWJF discussed their respective research, practice, and funding priorities in an effort to identify common goals and determine how each organization could benefit and complement the other, and ultimately assist in reversing the epidemic of overweight and obesity among U.S. youth. The planning committee gained support for forming a collaborative from various CDC divisions, NIH centers, and RWJF by stressing that NCCOR would improve the science behind obesity prevention, as well as information sharing.

Grounded by a group of passionate, committed leaders in the field, said Kettel Khan, NCCOR was formed to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and application of childhood obesity research through enhanced coordination and collaboration.

The planning committee engaged a range of leaders to discuss the purpose of NCCOR and what could be achieved by working together.

“Given efforts by each of these three organizations to advance research on obesity, leaders of these organizations were concerned about how we could do more together rather than separately and challenged us to be resourceful and innovative to advance this research and extend its effect,” said Rachel Ballard-Barbash, associate director of the Applied Research Program at the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

“Our primary purpose in forming NCCOR was to increase our collective impact and leverage each other’s strengths. We’ve learned from our tobacco control collaborative that strategically coordinating our goals, efforts and resources will be essential to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic,” said C. Tracy Orleans, RWJF’s distinguished fellow and senior scientist.

By describing a vision for NCCOR and what it can achieve with collaboration, the planning committee gained the support and commitment from institutional leaders to move forward.

Developing a common agenda

NCCOR’s foundations were laid at various working meetings. Through a range of strategic planning activities, they developed the following four priority areas:

  1. Develop, compile, test, and promote the consistent use of common measures and methods across childhood obesity prevention and weight control research at the individual, community and population levels.
     
  2. Evaluate new and existing obesity prevention and weight control interventions, with an emphasis on those involving multi-level and/or multi-component approaches, and strengthen the capacity (e.g., knowledge, skills, tools) to implement both interventions and evaluations.
     
  3. Accelerate rigorous evaluation of the effects of promising policy, system, and/or environmental changes—at the community, state, and national levels and across multiple settings (e.g., schools, homes, food and dining outlets, health care settings, and communities)—on children’s diet, physical activity, energy balance and weight status.
     
  4. Accelerate the adoption or application of effective interventions, programs, policy and evaluation and monitoring systems in states, communities and clinical practice.

With these priorities defined, NCCOR members developed the Collaborative’s list of 2009 projects, as well as some of its preliminary goals through 2013. To ensure that project goals are met, NCCOR members with expertise in particular in particular research areas established workgroups, or subgroups, focused on: the creation of a Measures Registry; the creation of a Catalog of Surveillance Systems; developing an NCCOR Conference Series; promoting strategic communications; and evaluating NCCOR’s progress.

Come learn more about the first activity of NCCOR’s Conference Series – a four-part webinar series on obesity-related policy evaluation that began on Feb. 27 – on NCCOR’s website at www.nccor.org/projects_webinar.html. Learn more about NCCOR’s entire ambitious agenda at www.nccor.org/projects.html.


Applying a model of success

Forming a collaborative to bring together knowledge, resources, and funding to achieve greater results is not new to CDC, NIH and RWJF. They, along with the American Legacy Foundation and American Cancer Society, previously formed the Youth Tobacco Cessation Collaborative (YTCC) in 1998 and the National Tobacco Cessation Collaborative (NTCC) in June 2005.

When formed in 1998, there were no identified evidence-based treatments for young smokers. Within 10 years after YTCC funded major research programs, proven cessation treatments for youth are now available and recommended in the U.S. Public Health Service’s Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update—Clinical Practice Guideline. Similarly, NTCC has had a large impact on the field by identifying strategies to build consumer demand for tobacco cessation products and services. For more information on YTCC and NTCC activities, please visit www.youthtobaccocessation.org, and www.tobacco-cessation.org.

After seeing the success of the tobacco cessation collaboratives, RWJF foresees comparable achievements if able to leverage nutrition/physical activity expertise and other resources across all three partners. Establishing greater transparency and disseminating research findings more rapidly, NCCOR represents a new way of doing the business of obesity prevention and control.

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