The whole community is involved with a collaborative approach with schools, doctors, dietitians and other health professionals. A central committee approves local initiatives which could be resources on diet, breakfast clubs, or safe walking routes to school. Leaflets are distributed in supermarkets, surgeries and community centres. School initiatives have included the involvement of food experts in classroom activities and more organised activities in school break times.
Children's BMI is measured annually and parents are given advice about their child's weight status, as well as on diet and activity.
Dramatic results have been seen in some towns. In St Jean in Midi Pyrenees, 817 children were enrolled of whom 19% were overweight in 2004. This figure had dropped to 13.5% just one year later. A multidisciplinary team of experts was involved with each child and their family, with regular meetings with dietitians and doctors, with support from psychologists and other professionals.
The EPODE community initiative was built on the success of two previous initiatives. The first was carried out between 1992 and 2000 when two towns in northern France involved 80% of their population in a project designed to change children's eating habits. The success of the collaboration of doctors, teachers, employers, and dietitians could be measured by the children's knowledge of food and their changed eating habits. In these towns children's obesity figures remained static for 8 years, whilst in the rest of the region it doubled.
The second study (1997-2002) looked more closely at the causative factors of obesity and involved 3000 people whose health and lifestyle was assessed annually. Over the five year period factors such as genetics, activity, stress and psychology were investigated.
The EPODE community approach to tackling obesity has been so successful that over 113 towns have now enrolled as well as other countries around the world.EPODE has industrial partners who have committed human and technical resources to the project. The European Union is encouraging local communities to become involved with the setting up of a European EPODE network under the Department of Public Health (SANCO).