Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Methods of defining best practice for population health approaches with obesity prevention as an example

Deborah A. McNeila1 c1 and Mary A. T. Flynna2

a1 Calgary Health Region, 1402 29th St NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 2T9, Canada

a2 Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Abbey Court, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1, Republic of Ireland

Abstract

Childhood obesity has reached a crisis stage and has become a population health issue. The few traditional systematic reviews that have been done to identify best practice provide little direction for action. The concept of evidence-based practice has been adopted in health care, and in medicine in particular, to determine best practice. Evidence-based medicine has its origins in the scientific method and for many researchers this concept means strict adherence to standards determining internal validity in order to justify a practice as evidence based. Practitioners addressing population health face challenges in identifying criteria for determining evidence, in part because of the nature of population health with its goal of shifting the health of whole populations. As well, the type of evidence provided by more traditional critical appraisal schema is limiting. Expanded approaches in finding and defining evidence have been proposed that use: expert panels; broad and inclusive search and selection strategies; appraisal criteria that incorporate context and generalizability. A recent synthesis of 147 programmes addressing childhood overweight and obesity provides a concrete example of using a broader approach to identify evidence for best practice (Flynn et al. 2006). Incorporating evaluation and population health frameworks as criterion components in addition to traditional methodological rigour criteria, this synthesis has identified programmes that provide contextual information that can be used to populate what Swinburn et al. (2005) have described as the ‘promise table’. Using this approach a range in ‘certainty of effectiveness’ and a range in ‘potential for population impact’ are integrated to identify promising strategies. The exercise can provide direction for agencies and practitioners in taking action to address obesity.

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: Dr Deborah A. McNeil, fax +1 944 4890, email Debbie.Mcneil@CalgaryHealthRegion.ca