Funding story: Obesity

If obesity is such a problem, why are so few non-governmental grant-makers making it a priority?

Along with climate change, the obesity crisis is said to be the big issue of our times, with estimates that more than half the UK's population will be classified as obese by 2050. A £372m government strategy has been launched to address the issue in England, and the Scottish Assembly has launched a similar £15m initiative to tackle the problem. The Welsh Assembly has also been dedicating money to this for some time.

But most non-governmental grant-makers aren't making this an explicit funding priority. Weight Concern, a charity dedicated exclusively to obesity, gets its only grant funding from the Department of Health. The Big Lottery Fund's wellbeing strand supported healthy eating and physical activity projects, but this closed in July 2006.

Angus Nelson, major projects manager at the British Heart Foundation, says that obesity touches more than one policy area. "Obesity links in a lot of health and environmental issues, because it's about providing an environment that is conducive to healthy living."

Many organisations are addressing some of these issues, with a couple tackling most of them.

Philip Insall, director of the Active Travel project at sustainable transport charity Sustrans, says: "We've got funding from several sources in public health and health promotion, including trusts and foundations, but none of them have a specific criterion of obesity."

Insall points to the example of the BHF, which is prepared to put money into initiatives that fall outside the conventional health field, including five 'public health centres of excellence'. "If we do need any further research, we need research into which intervention is the most effective," he says.

The BHF gets as well as gives grant funding. "Seventy per cent of our charitable spend is on obesity, and we do a lot of research work too," says Nelson.

"When we last looked at trusts and foundations for work around obesity, there wasn't that kind of earmarked funding, especially given that the BHF is perceived as very much a medical charity. We're about to embark on projects in this area, so it'll be interesting to see what is available."

Obesity, it seems, is another serious issue without much cash earmarked for tackling it.

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