Overweight and obesity in Australia has risen at an alarming rate over the last 20 years as in other industrialised countries around the world, yet the policy response, locally and globally, has been limited. Using a childhood obesity summit held in Australia in 2002 as a case study, Sally A. Nathan, Elizabeth Develin, Natalie Grove and Anthony B. Zwi examine how evidence was used in setting the agenda, influencing the Summit debate and shaping the policy responses which emerged.
The Summit demonstrated that policy action will move forward in the absence of strong research evidence. Where powerful and competing groups contest possible policy options, however, the evidence base required for action needs to be substantial. As with tobacco control, obesity control efforts are likely to face ongoing challenges around the nature of the evidence and interventions proposed to tackle the problem. Overcoming the challenges in controlling obesity will be more likely if researchers and public health advocates enhance their understanding of the policy process, including the role different types of evidence can play in influencing public debate and policy decisions, the interests and tactics of the different stakeholders involved and the part that can be played by time-limited yet high profile events such as Summits.