Can EPODE Help Reduce Childhood Obesity?

Yes, that is what published research and experiences literally around the world have shown. EPODE is an exciting international effort focused on reducing childhood obesity through public-private partnerships to create a healthy environment for healthy families. Its name is a bit unusual, as it is actually the initials from the French phrase, “Ensemble prévenons l’obésité des enfants,” which means “Together, we can prevent obesity in children.”

RiseVT is the exciting campaign in our community to embrace healthy lifestyles. As our area’s Community Committee on Healthy Lifestyles (co-chaired by Judy Ashley of the Vermont Department of Health and I) created RiseVT, we looked at a number of best practices to ensure we were investing in strategies which were proven to be effective. The EPODE approach and their remarkable results in communities and regions around the world caught the eye of Dr. Elisabeth Fontaine, who serves as the Medical Director of NMC’s Lifestyle Medicine Department and RiseVT. One study (Romon and Al., Public Health Nutrition, 2009) showed that towns in France using the EPODE methodology were able to reduce their rate of childhood obesity significantly. Over the course of twelve years of work, the childhood obesity rate in those EPODE communities dropped from 11.4% to 8.8%. That is a remarkable change made even more amazing next to the comparison towns in the study not using the EPODE methodology, whose rate of childhood obesity increased during those same twelve years from 12.6% to 17.8%. That means at the end of twelve years, twice as many children were obese in towns not using EPODE methodology! With the serious impact of childhood obesity on the wellness of the child, as well as the life-long health and healthcare expense implications of a lifetime of obesity, I am sure you can see how this result caught our attention!

How has EPODE achieved such impressive results? They have done so by bringing together the private sector, government leaders, healthcare providers, and community stakeholders to address the issue in a positive, engaging, and sustainable manner maintained over time to have a true impact on culture and health. EPODE’s website (http://epode-international-network.com/) describes their approach by saying, “The EPODE model is a unique strategy that brings together all sectors of the community – schools, family and public authorities – in an integrated approach to prevent childhood obesity at community level.” It says, “EPODE’s community approach can prevent childhood obesity. It changes the micro and macro environment, behaviors and social norms step by step using social marketing, scientific evaluation, ensuring political support and the involvement of all sectors, particularly the public and private spheres.”

We have found that EPODE has significant parallels to our approach within RiseVT. We are beginning to see wonderful momentum towards improved health throughout our area – including individuals and families engaging in healthy activities, schools embedding healthy aspects in their curriculum, providers and agencies partnering around wellness, municipalities creating smoke free parks, employers establishing worksite wellness programs and becoming breast-feeding friendly, and healthcare regulators experimenting with invest in prevention. There is such hope and exciting early results in all of this. EPODE has been able to help communities make these types of promising improvements sustainable and that is our single biggest challenge. Therefore, we have worked with experts from EPODE in recent months to learn more about their methodology and help them understand RiseVT. In April, an EPODE team will visit our community as part of a formal review of our program and its possible alignment with EPODE, both here in our region and in consideration of possible expansion statewide. This intensive visit will include working sessions with the RiseVT team and our Community Committee on Healthy Lifestyles as well as a presentation to local stakeholders and a public presentation at the April 14th Green Mountain Care Board meeting in Montpelier. Our guests from EPODE are excited to visit, as they are just beginning to work in Canada and have not yet begun a full project in the United States. We could be among their first US communities to pursue this internationally proven best practice to improve the health of our children.

Healthy children mean a healthy future. By embracing healthier lifestyles, all of us can be part of the important work underway in Vermont to improve population health, reduce the need for costly preventable medical interventions, and reform our healthcare payment system. Please watch for more information from the EPODE visit and join us in embracing a healthier lifestyle. Visit www.RiseVT.com to learn more about this fun initiative, take the pledge, and get started by filling out an individual scorecard. We are a community on the rise and we want you rising to even better health right along with us!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer