The CO-CREATE project – Confronting Obesity: Co-creating policy with youth (2018-2023) – set out to change European societies by working with young people to develop tools and practices to strengthen their role in obesity policy development. CO-CREATE also worked towards gathering knowledge about the systemic factors of obesity to counter the prevailing individual focus of interventions.
The project has a key focus on the co-creation process, using participatory action research methodologies involving young people in the project’s design, activities and outputs. Christian Bröer, leading the project, tells us about the importance of co-creation: ‘In a democracy, people are supposed to be able to participate in decision-making and policy formation that directly affects them. Through collaboration between young people, academics, and policymakers, new ideas emerge.’
Some participants criticized our approach and perspective. I find that beautiful to witness.Christian Bröer
CO-CREATE has successfully reached out to more than 200 diverse adolescents in five European countries and South Africa. It has collaborated with young people for up to a year in a wide range of activities. Christian Bröer: ‘We initially brought them together in a group building activity. The participants expressed their initial ideas about obesity, health, and its societal causes. This led to a photovoice activity, where the adolescents took photos of their (un)healthy surroundings and developed new policy ideas based on them. All groups were also provided with a budget to experiment with their ideas, which proved to be very successful. For instance, one group took over their school's cafeteria and experimented with different meals.’
Critizing the approach
It has revealed the rapidly changing environments faced by young people today, and shown that tackling obesity means understanding young people’s experiences, supporting their political power in relation to their health, and supporting structural changes to their environments to make this easier. Christian Bröer is pleased with the results: ‘I am proud that we have succeeded in reaching young people with very diverse backgrounds and developing politically relevant proposals with them. Some participants criticized our approach and perspective. I find that beautiful to witness. We often too easily assume that health is inherently important. However, this was not always the case for young people in CO-CREATE.’
Powerful agents of change
The project demonstrates that young people have the potential to act as powerful agents of change. CO-CREATE has shown that adolescents support policies to increase the use of economic tools to address affordability of healthier foods, to ensure supply chains are coherent with health policies, and to support active transport and design neighbourhoods for safe and healthful physical activity.
The research points to the links between overweight and mental ill-health among adolescents, both in the lifeworlds of adolescents as in existing research.