Tackling a global issue
Childhood obesity has become a serious public health issue globally – as the number of obese children has grown, particularly in more deprived areas, and the health risks of obesity have become more evident. Governments are therefore increasingly seeking to tackle the problem. This includes obesity plans from countries such as Denmark, England, France, Mexico, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland, as well as reports and recommendations from countries including Australia and Canada.
Some governments have also launched initiatives to tackle specific factors believed to increase the risk of obesity, such as taxing:
- The advertising budgets of food companies not encouraging healthy eating (France)
- Pre-packaged food high in sugar and salt (Hungary)
- Sugary drinks (England and Mexico)
These national obesity plans and initiatives may have helped encourage healthier diets or more physical activity (with all the attendant health benefits) and also helped slow the rise in childhood obesity. However, only Scotland saw a national reduction in children at risk of obesity (at least among boys, between 2012 and 2017).
Successful local/targeted initiatives
Reducing childhood obesity in an obesogenic world is clearly a major challenge. Fortunately, governments can now learn from a range of more local, regional or targeted initiatives which have begun to reduce rates of childhood obesity. These include:
- Ensemble Prevenons L’Obesite Des Enfants (EPODE) in France
- Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young (HENRY) in Leeds (UK)
- Jongeren op Gezond Gewicht (JOGG) in the Netherlands
- Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme (AAGG)
- The Overcoming Obesity Programme in the Finnish city of Seinajoki
- The Children’s Obesity Clinic Treatment (TCOCT) in several towns in Denmark
- The Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle (OPAL) programme in South Australia
- A multi-sector project in Texas and some New York City initiatives
- The Women, Infants and Children’s programme (WIC) for some 7 million low income pregnant women and new mothers in the USA
How to scale up successful initiatives
One question for national governments is how to scale up initiatives like these, where success may have depended, at least in part, on local factors and specific individuals and organisations. Fortunately, EPODE provides a positive example of scaling up. Its approach has now been applied in many French towns and has influenced and inspired successful initiatives in the Netherlands (JOGG), South Australia (OPAL) and Scotland (Healthy Weight Healthy Communities).
Governments can also apply guidance from the World Health Organisation, which has identified the importance of promoting the intake of healthy foods and physical activity at three key stages in life: preconception and pregnancy; early childhood; and the school years – as well as weight management.
To find out more see:
Nicole Musuwo's Reducing Childhood Obesity Internationally blog published on the Royal Society for Public Health website
and her report on International childhood obesity policies.