Tackling Obesity in the south east

Project overview

Obesity is widespread amongst disadvantaged communities across the south east region of Melbourne. Many families in the region live on tight budgets and rely on cheaper, processed foods which have lower nutritional quality and are linked to obesity. The south east has a high prevalence of disadvantage, food insecurity, and cultural and linguistic diversity.  This complexity requires adaptive systems thinking approaches.

In 2017 enliven engaged with, and confirmed cross sector commitment from local government, health/social services, water, construction, and manufacturing stakeholders to work collectively on this shared priority.  A new partnership was formed in 2017 between Health Futures Australia (HFA), enliven and the South East Prevention Group to build Australia’s Healthiest Communities.

The partnership aimed to develop a completely new approach to the prevention of obesity by drawing on the innovation of private sector and non-government leaders. The primary aim was to co-design a long term, multi-level and dynamic platform to reverse obesity and positively impact preventable chronic disease across the communities of the South East.  The first phase of the work took place from May to November 2017 and involved key stakeholder interviews; the development of a draft proposition for prevention; key stakeholder reflection and feedback; and a final proposition to prevent obesity in the south east of Melbourne.  Interviews conducted with leaders in the South East of Melbourne found that they expressed a deep sense of urgency to act on the issue of obesity.  They recognised obesity as a complex social problem which needed new ways of working to create sustainable systemic change.

Specifically, key themes for change identified by leaders were:

  • Acting across the whole system of social, economic, and political contributors to obesity.
  • Creating leaders and leadership around obesity prevention.
  • Commitment to collective impact approach to abate the obesity epidemic across the communities of the South East of Melbourne.  Collective impact is where stakeholders from different sectors commit to a common agenda.
  • Alliance with business and industry as a target population, investor, and community leader.
  • Investment in prevention for sustained impact – including the co-design of new funding mechanisms to support long-term and sustained investment.
  • Potentially a sub-regional or regional approach.
Status of the project
  • A stakeholder forum was held in November 2019 at South East Water.  At the forum, ideas were generated for potential projects to move forward collectively.
  • Health Futures Australia delivered a proposal for investment in February 2020.
  • enliven funded a Group Model Building exercise with Deakin University, delayed due to COVID-19 but commenced online in September 2020.  Across a series of three workshops, we built stakeholder’s capacity to take a systems approach to tackling obesity, and to identify local system leverage points which will be framed into innovative projects to influence both system change and health outcomes. The exercise was led by Andrew Brown and the team at the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), Deakin University who are recognised leaders in systems thinking, particularly in the obesity space. The workshops were completed in December 2020 and the full report can be found here


For more information please contact Rob at rob@enliven.org.au