About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Obesity (not) in the ________ headlines

Nearly 1.6 million adults in Wales live with obesity or are overweight, and more children are obese by the time they start primary school in Wales than any other part of the UK.

Available statistics like these point to a problem, but recent Nesta research has identified gaps in data which prevent us from properly understanding and tackling obesity and its drivers in Wales.

The Covid pandemic highlighted the importance of reliable and transparent data. The data ecosystem that was established during the pandemic provided us with up-to-date information from multiple organisations on infections, hospitalisations, deaths, and vaccinations enabling us to respond effectively to the crisis.

Recent Nesta research has called for a similar approach to address the obesity crisis and its drivers in Wales. With good, reliable and transparent data, we would be better able to:

  • Understand the drivers of obesity – e.g. how do different factors, such as the cost of food, distance to supermarkets, and availability of online delivery slots, impact the access to healthier foods in urban and rural areas?
  • Effectively design and target interventions to those most at risk – e.g. which foods should be prioritised for reformulation to improve the diets of young people with excess weight?
  • Evaluate what works and for whom - e.g. if implemented in Wales, what impact would mandatory calorie labelling have on consumers’ food choices and obesity prevalence?

What happens when good data doesn’t exist? What do we miss when there are ‘data gaps’?

We don’t hear about data gaps often – they go unreported in the news due to the challenge of communicating non-existent figures.

But one way to understand their impact is through the headlines that can’t be written.

Via a series of missing statistics in fictional headlines, this visual essay demonstrates just some of the impact that data gaps have on our understanding of what is driving obesity in Wales and how it can be addressed.

Obesity (not) in the ________ headlines

We don’t have good data on the prevalence of obesity in Wales

There are data gaps in our understanding of Welsh diets

We need better data on the nutritional value of food

We could have much better data on how easy it is for people to access healthy food and drink

A lack of good data in Wales is holding organisations back from effectively tackling the drivers of obesity

Of course, an issue making the headlines doesn’t itself change policy. There are plenty of examples of good data being available, while action to tackle the issue is insufficient. But if data is unavailable in the first place, there is very little chance of positive change.

Data gaps, including those identified by this research, occur for a variety of reasons. But the consequences of not collecting and reporting data are significant: it inhibits our ability to identify areas where services are underperforming, track progress over time, and ultimately improve the wellbeing of individuals. It is also much more difficult to identify at-risk groups, target interventions to those most in need and understand what works best for different groups.

It is easy to start closing these data gaps – and we aren’t calling for a huge database or an up to the minute live dashboard. It is often smaller efforts like extending a survey to an older age group or encouraging local authorities to record the content of their free school meals. These small changes have the potential to make large impacts on our ability to understand obesity – and develop effective interventions.

Author

Lauren Orso

Lauren Orso

Lauren Orso

Group Data Journalist

Lauren is a data journalist who researches, produces, and publishes data stories.

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Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Mission Manager, healthy life mission

Jonathan works within Nesta Cymru (Wales), focusing on working across public, private and non-profit sectors to deliver innovative solutions that tackle obesity and loneliness in Wales.

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Cath Sleeman

Cath Sleeman

Cath Sleeman

Head of Data Discovery, Data Analytics Practice

Dr Cath Sleeman is the Head of Data Discovery.

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