The Policy Evaluation Network (PEN) Kick Off meeting, February 2019 – Prof Catherine Woods

The Policy Evaluation Network (PEN) Kick Off meeting, Bremen, Germany February 4th-6th 2019

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of global mortality, responsible for 39.5 million deaths in 2015, which equates to 70% of all deaths. Successful policy actions to address physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and sedentary behaviour have the potential to influence the health and well-being of an entire population. At the public policy level, the initiation, coordination and implementation of policies that enhance opportunities for whole populations to make healthier physical activity- and diet-related choices are necessary. Yet, no systematic research on the assessment or evaluation of policy interventions across Europe is currently being conducted. Consequently, no information on the merit, worth or utility of policy interventions is available and no guidance or recommendations on how to address this gap in our knowledge exists.

As part of the Joint Programming Initiative on a Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (JPI HDHL)  28 research institutes from seven European countries and New Zealand have combined their expertise, and commited a budget of €3.98 million to form a Policy Evaluation Network (PEN).  PEN’s vision is to provide Europe with tools to identify, evaluate and benchmark policies designed to directly or indirectly address physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and sedentary behaviour while accounting for existing health inequities. Using structured evaluation principles and methods, PEN will examine the content, implementation and impact of lifestyle policies across Europe and will build on existing knowledge from DEDIPAC (Determinants of Diet and Physical Activity) and the INFORMAS (International Network for Food and Obesity/ non-communicable diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support) framework.  Professor Catherine Woods, HRI Physical Activity for Health Research Cluster is deputy co-ordinator of PEN.  UL, UCC and UCD collaborate to represent 3 research centres from Ireland.  Professors Alan Donnelly and Ann MacPhail and Dr. Ciaran MacDonncha make up the UL applicant team.  UL focuses on physical activity and sedentary behaviour policy, while UCC and UCD focus on nutrition.

With seven inter-related work packages (WPs), PEN will provide an overview of the ‘best’ public policies most likely to sustainably reduce physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and sedentary behaviour.  It will realise the first steps in a bespoke policy monitoring and surveillance system for Europe and refine our knowledge of appropriate research designs and methods for the quantification of policy impact. It will contribute to our understanding of how to achieve successful transnational policy implementation of these evidence-based or evidence-grounded policies in different cultural, demographic or socio-economic settings with particular focus on vulnerable groups. PEN will provide recommendations on equity and diversity to ensure that policy actions are inclusive as opposed to exclusive, are relevant to the changing landscape of Europe and are culturally sensitive. Finally, PEN  will provide three worked examples of policy in practice. Three case studies will illustrate how best to evaluate the implementation and impact of policy in order to yield the best results for a healthy diet for a healthy life for European citizens.

Keywords:  DEDIPAC, dietary behaviour, equity focus, health behaviour, health surveillance, INFORMAS, noncommunicable diseases, physical activity, policy benchmarking, policy evaluation, policy implementation, policy intervention, primary prevention, sedentary behaviour, vulnerable groups

Professor Catherine Woods, is a Chair in Physical Activity for Health (PAH) in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick (UL).  She is a member of UL’s Health Research Institute ( and her research cuts across its themes of lifestyle and health and technology.  She enjoys developing and testing theoretically sound interventions to change population levels of physical activity and seeks better, more systematic methods of bringing research, practice and policy closer together to achieve real and sustainable impact.  Prof. Woods believes that physical activity is a best buy for public health as it has the potential to improve health and wellbeing for everyone, irrespective of age, ability or condition.

Feature Image:  Professor Catherine Woods, Professor Alan Donnelly PEN applicants and Dr. Enrique Garcia Bengochea, Dr. Joey Murphy representing the University of Limerick at the recent Kick Off meeting for the EU funded PEN project.
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