Improving obesity related outcomes in old age


A team of researchers from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield and the User Centred Healthcare Design Lab4Living at Sheffield Hallam University collaborated on this multi-national, multi-disciplinary three year programme of work dedicated to developing, evaluating and implementing novel social innovations that improve the quality of life and wellbeing of older people. The researchers were all participants in the UK National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care for South Yorkshire.

The project based in South Yorkshire, England was about 'Improving obesity related outcomes in old age'. Our ambition was to reduce the proportion of the European population who reach old age with problematic obesity, to minimise its negative health impacts and maximise functional health in old age.

Using a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and a programme of user-centred healthcare design activities involving participants in an existing cohort of research participants in South Yorkshire, we developed an intervention that promoted playful inter-generational interactions around healthy and active ageing, exploring the potential of using digital, sensor and social networking technologies.

Through utilising social networks and new technologies to facilitate these interactions, our aim was to reduce the prevalence of obesity in youth and middle age so that a smaller proportion of people reach old age with problematic obesity, minimise health impact and maximise functional health in old age.


The first deliverable for this social innovation was a review paper which synthesises the evidence on intergenerational interventions targeting obesity. Authored by colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Newcastle, the paper posits that intergenerational exchange is an effective source of support for older people and their families and is a potentially useful resource in the prevention and management of obesity and its complications.

Intergenerational interventions are increasingly seen as an effective way to reduce or prevent childhood obesity. It is possible that they may also be used to provide benefit for older generations. The purpose of this review was to analyse the characteristics and effectiveness of intergenerational interventions targeting obesity in order to inform the development of social interventions which aim to harness or expand the potential of intergenerational exchange as a resource in the prevention or management of obesity in older age.

A search of eleven electronic databases was carried out. The search and selection process resulted in 19 studies which met the inclusion criteria. These studies included four systematic literature reviews, two randomised controlled trials, four quasi experimental studies and nine other study designs.

It was concluded that there was a paucity of evidence around intergenerational interventions with children/seniors, while most research focused on children/parents. There was a great deal of variation in the studies reviewed making it difficult to draw firm conclusions. However, in general the impact of intergenerational interventions on BMI or z-scores was small, and tended to vanish on follow-up.

The second deliverable was a blueprint for a social innovation to prevent/reduce obesity. In parallel with the formal review of published literature (the first deliverable, available above), a contextual analysis was conducted of social innovations and design interventions related to obesity and physical activity. Both novel uses of digital and social technologies to address obesity across Europe and North America were examined, as well as the local context of interventions taking place in South Yorkshire that could be drawn in as partners to ensure the sustainability of the innovations.

Download the report (PDF, 565KB)

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