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Using Obesity Research to Shape Obesity Policy in Minnesota: Stakeholder Insights and Feasibility of Recommendations

Jou, Judy, PhD; Nanney, Marilyn, S., PhD, RD; Walker, Elizabeth, MPH; Callanan, Rachel, JD; Weisman, Susan, JD; Gollust, Sarah, E., PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May/June 2018 - Volume 24 - Issue 3 - p 195–203
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000637
Research Reports: Research Full Report

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.

Division of Health Policy and Management (Drs Jou and Gollust and Ms Walker) and Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (Dr Nanney), University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota; American Heart Association, Midwest Affiliate, Edina, Minnesota (Dr Callanan); and Public Health Law Center, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, St Paul, Minnesota (Dr Weisman).

Correspondence: Judy Jou, PhD, Division of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota, 420 Delaware St. SE, MMC 729, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (

The authors thank the following members of their contributing team for their valuable input: Representatives Bob Dettmer and Kim Norton from the Minnesota House of Representatives; Susan Bishop, William Burleson, and Martha Roberts from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH); and Hanna Kite, Alicia Leizinger, and Alexis Russell from the University of Minnesota.

This research was funded by a pilot grant from the University of Minnesota Healthy Food Healthy Lives Institute (HFHL) and a grant from the National Institutes of Health, through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R03 5R03HD0711560-02, Co-PIs Gollust and Nanney).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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