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UNICEF and The Data Lab Call for Data Collaboration to Tackle Child Obesity in Scotland

Posted on September 20, 2017

The Data Lab is joining forces with UNICEF in calling for public and private organisations to collaborate for the good of Scottish children by sharing data to help solve pressing public problems.

The first collaborative project aims to address the issue of child obesity in Scotland. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions across the globe, affecting millions of children*. Since1998 the proportion of children in Scotland aged 2-15 at risk of being overweight and obese has fluctuated between 29% and 33% putting these children at risk of serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes.

UNICEF has recognised that solving some of the most complex problems affecting children around the world will require access to different data sets and expertise from diverse sectors. The rapid rise in the availability of quality data offers a wealth of information to address complex problems affecting children. UNICEF saw that the opportunity to tap into this potential lay in collaborative working – prompting the development of DataCollaboratives.org in partnership with The Governance Lab (The GovLab) at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the Omidyar Network.

DataCollaboratives is about encouraging organisations from different sectors including private companies, research institutions, government agencies and others, to exchange and share data to help solve pressing public problems.

The innovative platform is now being promoted in Scotland through UNICEF’s relationship with The Data Lab. Once the initial proof of concept project on child obesity has been delivered, UNICEF and The Data Lab will work on delivering a Data Collaboratives hub in Scotland where data scientists and strategists will work on some of the most pressing problems facing children around the world, like famine, the refugee crisis and the spread of diseases like Zika virus. Finding solutions to these problems could transform the lives of some of the most disadvantaged children in Scotland, the UK and around the world.

Jude McCorry, Head of Business Development at The Data Lab explains the initial joint project: “While there is evidence relating to economic conditions and weight of children, there are other factors where there is no firm evidence such as diet, advertising and level of exercise. We would like to collaborate with the owners of data sources like shopper data, TV adverts, online gaming, use of green spaces and school lunch suppliers through the Data Collaboratives platform. We want to use the data to predict, inform and then help families and organisations that play an influential role in our children’s lives. It’s about helping understand the real factors impacting obesity.”


The collaborative project also aims to look at the links between obesity and other health conditions and predict the treatment of these diseases into the future. The findings and outcomes from the initiative will ultimately be shared with other countries around the world.

Lucinda Rivers, Head of Unicef UK in Scotland added: “This initial pilot collaborative project will not only help children in Scotland but the knowledge will be disseminated to UNICEF HQ in New York to support the work we do for children around the world. As well as data and expertise on the obesity challenge, we also welcome ideas on the resource, time and financial support that will be required to more clearly understand and therefore tackle Scotland’s child obesity problem.”

Roger Halliday Chief Data Officer, Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Data community has a fantastic ‘can do attitude’ and comes together regularly at events such as hackathons - particularly when they know their skills can do societal good. Using public and private data to understand and solve these challenges will be good for Scotland.”

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*A recent study stated that, ‘by 2025, 49 million more children would be obese or overweight than in 2010 – a total of 268 million, of which 91 million alone would be obese.

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