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VIASANO Programme and its specificities

photo-mireille-roilletMireille ROILLET, Central Coordinator of VIASANO, speaks about the programme and its specificities.

VIASANO has been launched in Belgium in 2007. From two pilot towns, we are now collaborating with seven towns throughout the country. Being implemented in a multicultural nation, VIASANO illustrates well the transferability and adaptability of the EPODE methodology.

Essential purpose of VIASANO programme:

According to a recent report from the “Scientific Institute of Public Health” 33 % of Belgian adults are overweight (25 ≤ BMI ≤ 30) and 14 % are obese (BMI ≥ 30). This high prevalence has also been found in children. Indeed, 18 % of children from 2 to 17 years old are overweight and these results are even higher for the children from 5 to 9 years old with an overweight prevalence of 22 %. These data are even more important to keep in mind, as we know that overweight and obese children are more likely to remain overweight or obese in their adult life.

Because it takes time to impact such statistics, sustainability and continuous improvements are central concerns in a programme like VIASANO. The visibility of the programme at a national level is also essential to motivate local political leaders such as the mayors to get their town involved and reach a maximum number of families.

Based on the EPODE methodology, VIASANO works in each town with a local project manager nominated by the mayor and trained at central level by our coordination team. The programme is endorsed by public institutions, several scientific associations, societies and leagues and receives support from private partners (Ferrero, Unilever Health Institute, Orangina Schweppes Belgium). VIASANO also benefits from the guidance of a multidisciplinary, talented and motivated expert committee, which helps to bring the programme to success and recognition.

Belgian specificities:

From two pilot towns in 2007, we are now coordinating seven towns spread in both the French-speaking and the Flemish Communities. This is also what makes the VIASANO programme so peculiar and interesting. Indeed Belgium is a federal state with political power distributed at three levels: Federal Government, Communities and Regions. It means that each community has its own specificities including in terms of official nutritional recommendations. For this matter, we work with scientific experts from both communities and our team adapts the VIASANO campaigns according to these specificities. The development of a new campaign is also participative and includes feedback from the local project managers in order to stick to their local reality and culture. Each campaign can then be adapted on the field via the organization of tailored activities, e.g. in deprived areas regrettably more at risk of presenting high obesity prevalence.

Creating opportunities to share experiences and overcome challenges

The second annual VIASANO congress was held in Hasselt in November 2010. The congress is a great opportunity to promote interactions between actors from all sectors, to share experiences and discuss challenges to overcome. It also gives the opportunity to highlight a particular topic (in 2010, the management of the environment in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle). The congress represents also the moment for the local project managers to feel that they belong to a community of people working together in the same direction.

Moreover being part of an international network is very positive because we believe that we can learn a lot from the experiences of other countries to improve and develop the VIASANO programme.

Results of the EEN project, an important milestone

Tackling obesity is an everyday challenge and it takes time to deeply change our behaviours towards a healthier and happier lifestyle. We are now eager to learn from the EPODE European Network results, notably for improving our evaluation methodology. Monitoring progress and achievements is indeed essential to improve Community-Based Interventions such as EPODE and VIASANO on a continuous basis.