Whole Systems Approach
There is increasing recognition that several public health problems, including obesity, are complex issues requiring system-based approaches. The UK Foresight map illustrates the complex web of obesity causation, in which behaviour is affected by numerous heterogeneous and interdependent individual and socio-environmental level factors that interact dynamically.
Despite this increasing awareness, the majority of interventions and strategies to date have not been implemented using a systems-thinking perspective, meaning there has been little recognition of properties inherent in a complex system (e.g. nonlinear relationships, feedback loops, dynamic interacting elements) and little attention afforded to the exploration of the central underlying operational mechanisms (e.g. improving networks, developing a common agenda, developing relationships).
The aim of the whole systems approach research group is to advance the application of whole system approaches to obesity, using participatory techniques and supporting guidance material to determine how a whole system approach can effectively be developed, delivered and evaluated locally. This programme of research will also determine the current landscape around obesity at the local level – the pre-systems analysis.
Whole Systems Approach to Obesity
Whole systems approach to obesity: A guide to support local approaches to promoting a healthy weight was published on 25 July 2019 by Public Health England.
LBU was commissioned by Public Health England, in partnership with the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Public Health, to produce this guide, supporting resources and a learning report to help local authorities and their partners with the process of creating a whole systems approach. The resources include a short animation, which describes the relevance and importance of taking a whole systems approach to tackling obesity.
The guide was the culmination of a 3-year period of co-production, development and testing of systems activities and tools with local government organisations across England.
The guide and resources are supported by an edition of Public Health England’s professional resource, Health Matters. This includes a set of infographics, which can be used by local areas to make this case for taking a whole systems approach.
For more information about Leeds Beckett University’s role in the programme or for support in delivering a whole systems approach to obesity in your area, please contact
Duncan Radley, Senior Research Fellow in Physical Activity and Obesity
Telephone:0113 812 9108
Joanna Saunders, Senior Consultant on the Whole Systems Obesity Programme
Telephone: 0113 812 5373 Mobile: 0734 203 2887
The aim of the whole systems approach research group is to advance the application of whole system approaches to obesity, using participatory techniques and supporting guidance material to determine how a whole system approach can effectively be developed, delivered and evaluated locally. This programme of research will also determine the current landscape around obesity at the local level – the pre-systems analysis. Projects that we are conducting within this theme include the Public Health England funded Whole Systems Approaches to obesity, and the Suffolk County Council funded Integrated Health Service.
- Mapping data sources against the Foresight obesity system map domains and nodes
- Development of a framework to report big data for obesity research
- The local policy context surrounding obesity
- Mapping the local actions/approaches to obesity against a socio-ecological model
- Understanding the stakeholder networks surrounding the obesity agenda at the local level
- Defining activity spaces in adolescents
- The contribution of food environment to obesity
- Exploring the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign discourse and public perceptions
- Framing of obesity in the Childhood Obesity Plan of Action
- Barriers teachers face in implementing 60 minutes of physical activity a day
- Dr Duncan Radley (Theme lead; Senior Research Fellow in Physical Activity & Obesity)
- Professor Paul Gately (Professor of Physical Activity & Obesity)
- Professor Jim McKenna (Professor of Physical Activity)
- Professor Ralph Tench (Professor of Communication)
- Professor Anne-Maria Bagnall (Reader in Evidence Synthesis Health Inequalities)
- Dr Claire Griffiths (Reader in Physical Activity, Obesity & Health)
- Carol Weir (Associate Staff)
- Joanna Saunders (Associate Staff)
- Matt Butler (Associate Staff)
- Miss Alex Christensen (PhD Student)
- Mr Windi Lameck (PhD Student)
- Miss Beccy Smith (MRes Student)
- Miss Madeline Sweetman (MRes Student)
- Miss Yancy Jensen (MRes Student)
- Mr Michael Chan (MRes Student)
- Whole systems approaches
- Systems thinking
- Group model building
- Network analysis
- Action mapping
- Obesity policy
- Prevention and treatment of obesity
The framing of people with obesity in local government policy documents.
Bagnall AM, Radley D, Sahota P, Jones R, Gately, van Dijk M, Blackshaw J, Montel S. Whole systems approaches in obesity and public health: a systematic review. (under review)
Morris MA, Wilkins E, Timmins KA, Bryant M, Birkin M, Griffiths C. Can big data solve a big problem? The obesity data landscape reported in line with the Foresight obesity system map. (under review)
Broom. D.R. & Flint, S. W. Chapter 4 (In production) - Physical Activity Interventions Impacting on Health in the Community. R. Wilson & C. Platts. (Eds). Managing and Developing Community Sport. Book will be published in 2018: routledge.com/Managing-and-Developing-Community-Sport/Wilson-Platts/p/book/9781138674332