Economos, C. D.; L. Calancie and R. A. Hammond

Background: Cross-sector collaborations and coalitions are promising approaches for childhood obesity prevention, yet there is little empirical evidence about how they affect change. We hypothesized that changes in knowledge of, and engagement with, childhood obesity prevention among coalition members can diffuse through social networks to influence policies, systems, and environments. Methods: We studied a community coalition (N = 16, Shape Up Under 5 "SUU5 Committee") focused on early childhood obesity prevention in Somerville, MA from 2015-17. Knowledge, engagement, and social network data were collected from Committee members and their network contacts (n = 193) at five timepoints over two years. Policy, systems, and environment data were collected from the SUU5 Committee. Data were collected via the validated COMPACT Stakeholder-driven Community Diffusion survey and analyzed using regression models and social network analysis.ResultsOver 2 years, knowledge of (p = 0.0002), and engagement with (p = 0.03), childhood obesity prevention increased significantly among the SUU5 Committee. Knowledge increased among the Committee's social network (p = 0.001). Significant changes in policies, systems, and environments that support childhood obesity prevention were seen from baseline to 24 months (p = 0.003). Conclusion: SUU5 had positive effects on "upstream" drivers of early childhood obesity by increasing knowledge and engagement. These changes partially diffused through networks and may have changed "midstream" community policies, systems, and environments.