2020 has shown that many aspects of our health are not only determined by ourselves, but are often shaped by the society we live in. COVID-19 has highlighted the treat obesity poses to us as well as to our societies. Together, we must recognise the root causes surrounding obesity, increasing our knowledge and empathy of the disease, empowering action to better our collective future. This World Obesity Day (March 4th), we are calling for joint actions towards a world of better understanding, support, and policies, building happier, healthier, longer lives for everybody. To address obesity, we are calling on the global community to come together, because every body needs everybody.
Identified as one of the most pressing public health challenges of the 21st century by the World Health Organization (WHO), global prevalence rates of childhood obesity (CHO) are alarming, and predictions, if we don’t change our current course of action, offer little room for optimism. In 2020, 158 million children aged 5-19 years were living with obesity, a number projected to reach 254 million by 2030[i]. In addition to independently contribute to poor health outcomes and mortality, obesity also increases the risk for other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Today, no country has a better than 50% chance of meeting their target to halt the rise in CHO.[ii]
Given how catastrophically off-track we are and acknowledging the urgency of the situation, the European Union (EU) has deployed an unprecedented research effort to support an improved understanding of the root causes of CHO and the development of effective policies to address obesity and associated inequities, both in the short- and long-term. COVID-19, and the measures taken to curb the pandemic, have further highlighted the urgency for action: shut down of schools, reduced access to open spaces to be physically active and disruptions in food and health systems have exacerbated already existing and deeply entrenched inequalities.[iii]
The message is clear: preventing and treating childhood obesity must be a priority. COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity to turn a moment of crisis into an opportunity. New, innovative approaches are needed to halt the rising pandemic of CHO if we are to improve the health of a billion people by 2023.
Marked annually, World Obesity Day aims to increase awareness of the root causes of obesity and encourage advocacy for change. STOP & CO-CREATE, two projects funded by the European Commission are addressing some of the unresolved challenges around CHO. The two projects work in a complementary way: STOP generates evidence on existing CHO-focused policies, including the most effective interventions to reduce childhood obesity in Europe, while CO-CREATE works directly with young people to encourage advocacy and improve childhood obesity-related policies.
Most recent findings from STOP amplify that the roots of obesity run deep, with multiple underlying factors that can make prevention and treatment more challenging. In developed countries, socially disadvantaged children — families with low incomes, ethnic minorities, low education backgrounds, or dependent on health insurance — are at greater risk of developing overweight or obesity.
Recognising the impact inequalities can have on both physical and emotional health of young people, CO-CREATE seeks the direct input and contribution of adolescents to find solutions to the challenges in society today. Recently, eight representatives from youth alliances gathered to draft a Youth Declaration, articulating their demands to help support the creation of healthy, sustainable living environments for all.
Past interventions to address the growing challenge of childhood obesity have not been effective, and new approaches are urgently needed. The evidence on the close association between COVID-19 and underlying obesity provides a new urgency, and opportunity, for global action. Our window of opportunity to fund and implement actions to ensure better, more resilient, and sustainable health for all is now.
This World Obesity Day, we urge governments and decision-makers to:
- Recognise and embrace young people’s perspectives and suggestions to address childhood and adolescent obesity.
- Observe, support, and use evidence-based research, including obesity monitoring and surveillance tools when devising policies and recommendations.
- Obesity prevention and treatment at the core of efforts to improve child health, with a focus on addressing the inequalities and stigma faced by children living with obesity.
- Take a life course approach to health that addresses the environmental, social, and commercial roots of obesity.
- Strengthen cross-sector collaboration and coordination to create a healthier environment for all children and their families, for instance by engaging in conversations with the food health and education sectors.
You can learn more about World Obesity Day here: www.worldobesityday.org
Claudia Selin Batz, Policy & Education Coordinator
Margot Neveux, Senior Policy Manager
World Obesity Federation
About the STOP project
Led by Imperial College London and part of the Horizon 2020 programme, the Science and Technology in childhood Obesity Policy (STOP) is a four-year European Commission-funded project which brings together 31 international research, advocacy and governmental organisations from 16 countries to generate scientifically sound and policy-relevant evidence on the factors that have contributed to the spread of childhood obesity in European countries, and on the effects of alternative policy options available to address them. The project engages international partners from different policy-contexts in the United Kingdom, Italy, Estonia, Romania, Portugal, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Sweden, Croatia, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, with additional partners in New Zealand and the USA. For more information about the STOP project, visit https://www.stopchildobesity.eu/
Follow the project Twitter account: https://twitter.com/stopobesityeu
About the CO-CREATE project
CO-CREATE, a five-year (2018-2023) research project funded through an EU Horizon 2020 grant, aims to reduce the prevalence of obesity among adolescents in Europe through policy actions to promote a healthier food and physical activity environment. CO-CREATE’s vision is that before 2025, the rise in adolescent obesity will have come to a halt.
The project brings together a consortium of 14 international research and advocacy organizations, across 10 countries to generate new insights into childhood obesity and its relation to the implementation of policies.
For more information on CO-CREATE visit: https://www.fhi.no/en/studies/co-create/
Follow the project Twitter account: @EU_COCREATE.
Visit the youth-facing website, Healthy Voices: https://www.worldobesity.org/healthy-voices
[i] World Obesity Federation. 2019. Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity | World Obesity Federation. [online] Available at: https://www.worldobesity.org/membersarea/global-atlas-on-childhood-obesity.
[ii] Lobstein T, Brinsden H. Atlas of Childhood Obesity.; 2019. http:// s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wof-files/11996_Childhood_Obesity_ Atlas_Report_ART_V2.pdf.
[iii] Pietrobelli, A., Pecoraro, L., Ferruzzi, A., Heo, M., Faith, M., Zoller, T., Antoniazzi, F., Piacentini, G., Fearnbach, S. and Heymsfield, S., 2020. Effects of COVID‐19 Lockdown on Lifestyle Behaviors in Children with Obesity Living in Verona, Italy: A Longitudinal Study. Obesity, 28(8), pp.1382-1385.