CO-CREATE and childhood obesity
Childhood obesity – a growing epidemic
Childhood obesity is one of the most serious global public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting every country in the world.
As highlighted in the World Obesity Federation’s Global Atlas of Childhood Obesity, no country has a better than fifty percent chance of meeting their target for addressing childhood obesity: if current trends continue, the global prevalence of childhood obesity is expected to reach 254 million by 2030, an increase of 100 million over the next decade.
While there seem to be some stabilisation across Europe, it is estimated that by 2025, overweight and obesity will affect one in every five children, representing more than 16 million children across Europe.
Living with overweight or obesity in youth, and in particular during adolescence (13-18 years), is a strong predictor of remaining overweight into adulthood, with an increased risk for a wide range of diseases including type-2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, psychosocial morbidity and certain types of cancers. In addition, children living with obesity are more likely to experience negative consequences including lower levels of self-esteem, higher likelihood of being bullied, poorer health attendance levels, poorer school achievements, poorer health in adulthood as well as poorer employment prospects. Childhood obesity therefore leads to a number of health, social and economic consequences throughout the life-course.
Given that individual-level treatment such as bariatric surgery or pharmacological interventions are often difficult to tolerate or ineffective in sustaining weight loss in a large proportion of people undertaking such efforts. Multi-component interventions that include diet, physical activity and family components are often identified as the first line of treatment options. However, current trends highlight that prevention should also be a central prioritised strategy with a strong focus on the adolescent age group.
From individual to contextual changes
What we eat and how much we move are direct results of the many individual choices we make each day. Obesity prevention efforts have often focused on trying to influence such individual choices as if they were conscious and rational. However, these choices are strongly influenced by the social, physical and economic environments in which we live. This is especially relevant for children and adolescents, who have lower levels of behavioural autonomy than adults do.
In our present-day environment of ever-presence and easy access to cheap, palatable high-calorie foods appealing to our natural preferences for fat, sugar and salt, our sedentary work and leisure environments, as well as a lack of opportunities for daily physical activity, unhealthy choices are often the easiest, default choices. A large and growing body of research shows that people’s nutrition and physical activity behaviours are influenced by complex sets of contextual elements, including unhealthy and unsupportive physical, social, cultural, economic, and political environments.
To be successful in reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity, we need to move towards comprehensive policies addressing the food and physical activity systems and environments surrounding us, reshaping the context to make healthy choices the easiest and most widely preferred.
Policies for a healthier future
In line with this, CO-CREATE will focus on policy actions with a potential to sustainably reduce the prevalence of obesity among adolescents in Europe. Working with adolescents as genuine project partners, and using a complex systems approach, the project will provide valuable contributions to enhance our understanding of how the broad range of factors at different policy and contextual levels impacts adolescents’ diet, physical activity and weight, and identify relevant policy responses.
Read more about the project here.