On 27 June the EPODE European Coordination Unit organised the first EPODE Mayors’ Club European congress in collaboration with the European Commission (DG Health and Consumers). EPODE is a methodology designed to involve all relevant local stakeholders in an integrated and concrete prevention program aimed at facilitating the adoption of healthier lifestyles in the everyday life.
EPODE (Together Let’s Prevent Childhood Obesity) is a methodology designed to involve all relevant local stakeholders in an integrated and concrete prevention program aimed at facilitating the adoption of healthier lifestyles in the everyday life. The programmes developed on the basis of the EPODE framework are long term, aimed at changing the environment and thereby the unhealthy behaviours. The approach is ’positive, concrete and stepwise’ learning process with no stigmatization of any culture, food habits, overweight and obesity. The first EPODE programme was started in France in the 2003 and EPODE now extends to nearly 1,8 million inhabitants in 167 French cities, 20 cities in Spain and 8 cities in Belgium. Success to date is measured by a large field mobilization in the pilot cities and by the encouraging evolution of the BMI of children in France within the pilot cities. EPODE is about to be implemented in Greece, Québec (Canada) and in Australia.
The controversial side of the EPODE programme is that it is partly funded by stakeholders from the industry. But according to the programme coordinators this is also one of the strengths and key components of the programme. The sponsors keep the public costs down and they are restricted by the ethical charter making sure that economic interests are not affecting the programme.
Robert Madelin, Director General for DG Health and Consumer and participating member to the founding of the EPODE European Network opened the congress. He stressed the importance of preventing non communicable diseases by taking advantage of the capacities present on community level and of using a multistakeholder approach. He expressed enthusiasm and hope for the success of the EPODE programme and gave the support of the Commission.
Lucio Gussetti represented the Committee of the Regions and he stressed the importance of preventing obesity by working with the school environment, physical activity and the access to healthy food. He also mentioned cooperating with the industry and communicating with the public. Mr. Gussetti welcomed more WHO Healthy Cities and suggested the creation of a database to increase access to experience and information.
Then Jean-Michel Borys and Sandrine Raffin, both from the EPODE coordination team gave a presentation of the EPODE programme. This was followed up by the first plenary session moderated by Philippe Most, who is the president of the European Club of EPODE political representatives. All speakers had been working with the implementation of the EPODE programme Claire Beuil, deputy mayor in the french city Beauvais, spoke about the significance of ’fighting the obesity epidemic together’ and of trying out new methods. Those should be simple, close at hand and original to ensure local ownership, not only on political level. She especially emphasised that the methods should be simple and that the positive aspect of EPODE is that nothing is imposed on the communities. They can customise their own approach, suitable for their context. The next speaker was Conxa Castell, representative for the Public Health Division of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, Spain. She explained how THAO (EPODE in Spanish) worked at the regional level. Following her was Catherine Willems, who worked with EPODE on local level in the city of Flandres-Lys. She talked about how they had used the EPODE framework and their positive experiences and the difficulties they met, especially in the initial phase. It was clear that all speakers were very fond of EPODE as methodology and that they valued the experiences they have had with the programme highly.
In the second plenary session the national coordinators from Belgium and Spain, Mireille Roillet and Rafael Casas, spoke about programme engineering and about adaptation of the French model to the two countries. The national coordinators are continuously coached by the EPODE team from the very beginning. Again enthusiasm for the programme was expressed from the speakers. Monique Valaize and José Manuel Avila the deputy mayors in two of the "EPODE cities" gave political input and shared their experiences with the programme. Jan Vinck, member of the scientific expert committee VIASANO, gave a speech on the importance of including experts from different fields in the entire process.
Third plenary session was devoted to the monitoring and evaluation of EPODE. This part of the progamme is very important since the experience and evidence is fed back to stakeholders and agents. This helps to improve effectiveness and is essential for credibility. This part of was held by Jaap C. Seidell; director at the Institute of Health Sciences at VU University of Amsterdam. What he also underlined was to "use the best evidence available, not the best evidence possible."
Plenary session four dealt with development and implementation of an EPODE programme. Paris, the French capital, is developing an EPODE programme for its 2 million citizens, making this the largest intervention in the history of EPODE. MP and deputy mayor for health in Paris Jean-Marie Le Guen spoke about this interesting project and how it will be carried out in a city with many diversities and cultures. Next speaker was Philippe Most, the first mayor to implement EPODE. He expressed great passion for programme and asked Mr. Le Guen to take EPODE further via his political network. Mr. Most has started the EPODE Mayors’ Club to gather the mayors who have chosen to implement an EPODE programme to share experiences on all levels. One of the main points of the programme is that the mayor takes leadership in implementing the programme and is personally involved. The mayors also use their network and position to spread EPODE to other cities. The EPODE European Network (EEN) was also presented. It is a pan European project run from 2008-2010 with support from the European Commission, which is meant to facilitate the implementation of EPODE and the sharing of experiences and ideas.
The EPODE framework seems like a good tool to create political willingness to engage more in obesity prevention and it is positive that all relevant stakeholders are included. However it is important to pay attention to industry interests and to make sure that the programmes are not controlled by commercial interests. There are many positive aspects of the programme such as collecting evidence, networking between the different programmes and local ownership. The programmes are tailored to the specific community they have to be implemented in, which will most likely result in better results. It will be interesting to follow the results of the different EPODE programmes and to see whether if they are as effective as hoped.
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