As you may know, the Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) program was conducted in regional and metropolitan South Australian communities to increase the proportion of 0-18 year olds in the healthy weight range. It utilised a systems-wide, community-based, multi-setting and multi-strategy approach to create supportive environments to improve eating and physical activity patterns of children.
The evaluation of OPAL was led by Flinders University and utilised a quasi-experimental repeated cross-sectional design to obtain a series of ‘snapshots’ of the frequency and characteristics of the population at a particular point in time. Primary outcomes were weight status and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) of preschool, primary and secondary school children, and secondary outcomes were obesity-related behaviours, attitudes and environments. Due to significant budget cuts to the OPAL program, the evaluation was scaled back to include preschooler routinely collected health-check data and parent and child surveys of primary school children (9-11 year olds) only at the final point. Therefore, the Final Evaluation Report reported the anthropometric, HRQoL and behaviour outcomes of primary school children (9-11 years) after 2-3 years of intervention delivery.
In summary, 2611 9-11 year old children completed questionnaires and 2353 had anthropometric measures taken at baseline, and 1873 and 1760, respectively, at final. Overall, there was no significant intervention effect on the proportion of healthy weight (baseline – final: 69.1% – 70.9%, intervention, 74.5 – 70.5%, comparison communities) or BMI z-score (age and gender adjusted BMI) amongst primary school children aged 9-11 years. There was however a significantly reduced probability of obesity (by 49% in intervention communities) and a significantly increased probability of children meeting the discretionary food guideline (by 40% in intervention communities). Further, there was an improvement in health-related quality of life at the end of the intervention period amongst intervention children. In conclusion, OPAL had a significant impact on the 9-11 year old children’s obesity risk and a modest impact on quality of life and behaviours over a modest period. Evaluation of sustainability of the OPAL program is required.