Objective: Preventing childhood obesity requires innovative, evidence-based policy approaches. This study examines the use of research evidence by obesity policy stakeholders in Minnesota and develops pilot tools for communicating timely evidence to policymakers.
Design, Setting, and Participants: From November 2012 to January 2013, semistructured interviews were conducted with 51 Minnesota stakeholders in childhood obesity prevention. Interviewees included 16 state legislators and staff; 16 personnel from the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Department of Health, and Minnesota Department of Transportation; and 19 advocates for and against childhood obesity prevention legislation (response rate = 71%).
Main Outcome Measures: Participants were asked their views on 3 themes: (1) Whether and how they used research evidence in their current decision-making processes; (2) barriers to using research evidence for policymaking; and (3) suggestions for improving the evidence translation process. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. A team approach to qualitative analysis was used to summarize themes, compare findings across interviewees' professional roles, and highlight unexpected findings, areas of tension, or illuminating quotes.
Results: Stakeholders used research evidence to support policy decisions, educate the public, and overcome value-based arguments. Common challenges included the amount and complexity of research produced and limited relationships between researchers and decision makers. Responding to interviewee recommendations, we developed and assessed 2 pilot tools: a directory of research experts and a series of research webinars on topics related to childhood obesity. Stakeholders found these materials relevant and high-quality but expressed uncertainty about using them in making policy decisions.
Conclusions: Stakeholders believe that research evidence should inform the design of programs and policies for childhood obesity prevention; however, many lack the time and resources to consult research consistently. Future efforts to facilitate evidence-informed policymaking should emphasize approaches to designing and presenting research that better meets the needs of policy and programmatic decision makers.
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