UCL Public Policy


Florence Sheen – Office for Health Improvement & Disparities (OHID), London region, 2023, 4 months

Researcher-in-Residence at the at the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities (OHID) (London region) and focused on rapid evaluation of London’s weight management programmes.


27 November 2023

What was your Fellowship about? 

My UCL-OHID Researcher in Residence Fellowship project involved investigating (Tier 2) Weight Management Services (WMS) – that provide community-based diet, nutrition, lifestyle and behaviour change advice usually in a group setting – in London. Specifically I was exploring barriers to delivering effective, equitable, and inclusive services and how we may work to alleviate these barriers and ultimately better support and improve these community-based services.

To achieve this, I conducted qualitative focus groups with public health commissioners and obesity leads from local authorities across London, and distributed a survey to the London Local Authorities, supervised by Dr Jackie Chin (Consultant in Public Health, OHID). We also provided a summary of data from the minimum data set comparing the London picture to the national picture. 

We found that commissioners of lifestyle-based weight management (Tier 2) services in London aspired to support individuals to make sustained lifestyle changes, recognising the importance of these services as complementary to an integrated approach within their community. Co-creation with communities was revered as the ‘gold standard’ for cultivating effective, equitable and inclusive services. However, providers reported barriers to implementing such approaches. Commissioners also recognised that there were many barriers to individual engagement with programmes that they – and the individual – could not control, such as perceived stigma, practical issues around access, or readiness to engage with the service. Facilitating individual readiness through appropriate framing and messaging was seen as a way to overcome some of these barriers, as well as improving funding provision for Tier 2 weight management services, the clarity of pathways into and out of these services, and collaboration between London Boroughs. 

These insights were shared with members of the London Obesity Leads Network (LOLN) across two of their monthly meetings, and a report of our findings was distributed to the LOLN and to London Local Authorities.

What skills and experience did you gain?

Conducting focus groups with public health commissioners in London was a brilliant and insightful experience, as it enhanced my understanding of how Tier 2 weight management services function at a practical level and allowed me to further appreciate the complexity of the barriers to creating effective, equitable, inclusive services. I learnt how to communicate effectively with local authorities and those working in policy to achieve the study aims. It also helped me to develop a pragmatic approach, as the outputs were to be delivered in a short time frame.  

What would you say to other UCL researchers considering a policy placement?

Working with OHID as a UCL-OHID Researcher in Residence is a valuable opportunity to gain insights into policy development and delivery at both a Local Authority level and a regional level. The skills and knowledge I gained in scientific communication and policy have been valuable in appraising the accessibility and quality of my research communication, as well as the potential policy impacts of my research.