Data visualisation to support obesity policy: case studies of data tools for planning and transport policy in the UK.
International Journal of Obesity 2018 ; 42: 1977-1986.
PubMed ID : 30470805
Data visualisation is becoming an established way to drive discovery and develop theory and hypotheses among researchers. Data visualisations can also serve as tools for knowledge translation with policy makers, who are increasingly using data and evidence to inform and implement policy. For obesity policy, data visualisation tools can help policy makers and other professionals understand the socio-spatial distribution of risk factors and quantify social and environmental conditions that are recognised upstream determinants of diet, activity and obesity. The demand for and use of data visualisation tools can be driven by an identified policy need, which can be met by researchers and data scientists. Alternatively, researchers are developing and testing data visualisations, which may be subsequently adapted for, and adopted by policy users.Two recently-released interactive data visualisation tools in the UK illustrate these points. The Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) was developed with funding from the UK government to inform the investment of cycling infrastructure in England. The Food environment assessment tool (Feat) evolved as a translational output from a programme of epidemiological research. This article uses PCT and Feat as case studies, drawing parallels and contrasts between them. We discuss these two tools from policy context and scientific underpinnings, to product launch and evaluation. We review challenges inherent in the development and dissemination of data tools for policy, including the need for technical expertise, feedback integration, long-term sustainability, and provision of training and user support. Finally, we attempt to derive learning points that may help overcome challenges associated with the creation, dissemination and sustaining of data tools for policy. We contend that, despite a number of challenges, data tools provide a novel gateway between researchers and a range of stakeholders, who are seeking ways of accessing and using evidence to inform obesity programs and policies.