UTHealth expert takes part in groundbreaking project to empower adolescents in the fight against obesity

A child obesity expert from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin was called upon to help lead a groundbreaking project to involve and empower adolescents in the fight against obesity in Europe.

The project, titled CO-CREATE, will use a societal systems approach to understand how factors associated with being overweight or obese interact at various levels. CO-CREATE aims to work with adolescents and youth organizations to foster a participatory process of identifying and formulating relevant policies; to assess the options with other private and public groups; promote relevant policy actions and to develop tools and strategies for implementation.

Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D., John P. McGovern Professor of Health Promotion at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin, is the U.S. investigator on this project. The European commission asked Hoelscher to participate because of her expertise in adolescent health. She will share data and provide insights from the Texas-based School Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN) study, conducted through the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. The SPAN study monitors the prevalence of overweight/obesity in school-aged children in Texas.

"We know that people's environments affect their eating and exercise behaviors. Adolescent advocacy has been a tool for changing other behaviors, such as recycling, but has not been widely used for obesity prevention strategies," Hoelscher said. "This new grant will provide international-level data on what policies are most effective and sustainable, and then use these data to work with youth to help them engage in the change process. Our involvement in the consortium provides a U.S. and state perspective on engaging adolescents for this advocacy work, and builds on our current portfolio in child and adolescent health."

Hoelscher will serve as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee and will work on various aspects of the project, including policy analysis tools and development of the evaluation framework. Another aspect of the grant includes conducting a dialogue forum for youth in Austin, Texas, to increase the input from the other consortium sites.

CO-CREATE partner organizations include university research departments, national public health institutions and civil society organizations concerned with health policies and youth well-being. The project will build on existing initiatives and platforms, and construct new opportunities for engagement and participation in democratic moves for advocacy and policy change.

A consortium of 14 research and advocacy organizations met in Oslo, Norway last week to launch the project. The budget of over €9.5 million (equal to about $11.3 million) will provide a program of activities for a five-year period ending in 2023. The CO-CREATE Project has received funding from the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research budget, shared between 14 research groups in six European countries, with participation from Australia, South Africa and the U.S. The project will be completed in 2023.

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