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How useful is Big Data in the fight against Obesity?

International experts came together in Leeds this week to explore how Big Data can be used to tackle obesity and obesity related diseases.  The audience of 100 consisted of academic and non-academic experts, with wide ranging interests including big data, nutrition, health and geography.

The first of four meetings, this meeting provided an introduction to the Obesity Network and focused on Policy Impact & Data.

The morning session included presentations from a number of key network members, with speakers giving short presentations to introduce their organisation and detailing how they will be working with the Obesity Network moving forward.  The presentations and videos are available here.

The presentations were followed by a lively panel discussion, which explored the practicalities of using Big Data in the fight against obesity.  Key points covered in the panel session include:

Questions to the panel highlighted how change in practice is afoot. Public health and local authorities are now working together for a more joined up approach to issues like health and wellbeing and planning. The capability of the public health intelligence teams within the local authorities is valuable and need balancing with the skills and the software available. Through multidisciplinary institutions such as the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics coproduction of research is now possible.

Discussion moved on to how we might be able to use individual level data to evaluate clinical trials and natural experiments. The will is there from all parties to make this happen but centres like those in the Administrative Data Research Network are working through governance challenges surrounding this.

Involvement of and engagement with retail partners and the public are essential to successful work in this area and something which the obesity network will strive to achieve. Engagement will form part of the proof of concept work within the University of Leeds environment, engaging the students whose data is used in this project, along with retailers supplying anonymise data for the study.

Attendees braved the weather and took a short walk around campus, before ending the day with a networking lunch.

Dr Michelle Morris, Director of the ESRC Strategic Network for Obesity commented on the success of the first meeting:

“It has been a really exciting day sharing ideas, enthusiasm and framing how we can take research forward in this area as a multidisciplinary, multi sector and multi institution team. There is such a lot of potential to use emerging data sources to better understand and tackle obesity. I look forward to seeing the ESRC Strategic Network for Obesity leading the way….”.

You can follow the day via the Obesity Network Storify Board.

The next meeting will take place in Cambridge on Wednesday 16 March 2016.  The meeting will follow a similar format but will focus on Data, Methods and Models.