By Hannah Brinsden, Director of Policy, World Obesity Federation
Obesity: A global health challenge
Obesity represents one of the most urgent global health challenges we face today, affecting over 800 million people globally. Once seen as only an issue affecting people in high-income countries, the greatest impact is now felt in low- and middle-income countries, alongside other forms of malnutrition and diet-related NCDs. The world is off track to meet obesity targets and the failure to act risks impairing our ability to meet the other global NCD targets, SDGs and WHO’s triple billion targets. There is a lot at stake!
At the World Obesity Federation, we drive global efforts to reduce, prevent and treat obesity throughout the lifecourse. We work closely with member organisations and other actors in high-, middle- and low-income countries, including experts, advocates, patients and practitioners, to try and shift this trajectory and prioritise obesity on the political agendas to get the action we so urgently need. We also train healthcare professionals in how to recognise and treat obesity, as few receive formal training in this area and people with obesity often do not enter the health system until they present with a comorbidity.
Reshaping the obesity narrative
The prevailing obesity narrative is generally misleading, and a key contributing factor to the inaction we see today. Rather than being recognised as a disease which requires a range of policies and actions to prevent and treat it, we instead find a narrative of blame and personal responsibility. The roots of obesity are complex, from genetics and psychology through to the environments we live in, pervasive marketing and inadequate health services. The blame narrative we so often see perpetuates weight stigma and hinders policy progress.
World Obesity is working tirelessly to reshape the global obesity narrative. This is one pillar of the Global Obesity Coalition which we have recently established with UNICEF and WHO. Together we work to influence the public and policymakers alike, demonstrating that no one is at fault for their obesity, rather that we all have a role to play in shaping the environments we live in to support people to live healthier lives and have access to the healthcare they need.
To help shape the action needed, we have recently developed the ROOTS framework. This framework includes the need to recognise obesity as a disease and, through a systems approach, monitor, prevent and treat obesity throughout the lifecourse. We hope this framework can serve as a basis for comprehensive national action plans on obesity.
In recent months we have had some promising progress at the global level. As part of the 2021 WHO Resolution on Diabetes, WHO was requested to develop guidelines and targets for the prevention and management of obesity throughout the lifecourse. These recommendations were consulted on over the Summer (our response is here) and we are optimistic they can pave the way for greater national action after (hopefully!) being approved at the WHO Executive Board and World Health Assembly in 2022.
To help reframe the obesity narrative, we also have an image bank and media guidelines which aim to improve the way obesity is portrayed in the media, shifting away from stigmatizing imagery of depicting laziness and indulgence towards recognition of the contextual drivers such as food environments.
As global health continues to evolve, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of recognising the challenge of obesity and the importance of acting now to protect lives. Over the coming months and years it would be great to see the global health community rally around obesity policy, and recognise the importance of addressing obesity to help reduce NCDs, meet the SDG targets, and ensure obesity is well positioned within the nutrition agenda. The next World Obesity Day will take place on 4th March 2022 and we invite you all to join us to ACT on obesity! Information will become available at: https://www.worldobesityday.org/
The World Obesity Federation (World Obesity) is the only organisation focused exclusively on obesity worldwide. World Obesity represents stakeholders in high-, medium- and low-income countries, including experts, advocates, patients and practitioners. The mission of World Obesity is to work with and through our members and partners, to achieve global obesity-related targets including halting the rise of obesity, and to shape the global narrative. This is achieved through research, education and policy focused on prevention and managing obesity in low-, middle- and high-income countries. Visit www.worldobesity.org for more information.