Communicating about noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors: workshop in Malta for journalists from countries participating in the WHO Small Countries Initiative

The Fourth High-level Meeting of the Small Countries Initiative took place in St Julian’s, Malta, on 26–27 June 2017. All eight small countries participating in the Initiative (Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, and San Marino) were represented.

The crucial role of the media in facilitating policy implementation in small countries – namely, countries with populations of less than 1 million – had been acknowledged at previous meetings of the Initiative. Thus, also this year’s meeting included a media workshop, which provided the many health journalists and communication experts participating in the meeting with an opportunity to share their experiences in communicating information on health-related topics through newspapers, television and the Internet, and to discuss problems encountered in interacting with the public.

The focus of the workshop was “taking action on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)”. The particular aim was to consider how communication officers and journalists could best convey information about NCDs and the relationship between the risk factors for NCDs (harmful use of alcohol, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) and the social determinants of health. This topic was chosen because some of the highest rates of childhood and adolescent obesity in the WHO European Region are found in the small countries: in the majority, the problem affects more than 1 in 3 children of school age. In this light, the ministers of health of the eight small countries signed the Malta Statement on Ending Childhood Obesity with a view to tackling the commonalities of the problem jointly.

Dr Joao Breda, Head of the WHO European Office on Noncommunicable Diseases in Moscow, Russian Federation, described the key issues relating to, and risk factors for, NCDs and introduced the pillars of the Malta Statement on Ending Childhood Obesity.

News products and innovative approaches to communicating about NCDs were also considered during the workshop with a special focus on the role of the social media. Ms Pauline Vassallo, Department for Health Regulation, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention of Malta, explained how Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube could best be used to send appropriate messages to different segments of the population (adolescents, young people, adults).

WHO tools, such as the WHO European Health Information Gateway, were presented. The Gateway features country profiles and provides data, such as those from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) case study, in user-friendly formats. It can also be accessed through a mobile app.