Turkey to establish high-level committee to lead action towards ending childhood obesity

WHO

First Lady, Ms Emine Erdoğan, being presented with a drawing by Syrian children attending Turkish schools. (Left to right) Prof Cevdet Erdöl, Rector of Health Sciences Universtiy; Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative to Turkey; Her Excellency Mrs Emine Erdoğan, First Lady of Turkey.

Turkey has committed to establishing a high-level committee to lead multisectoral action with the overall goal of ending childhood obesity. To the same end, the Ministry of Health requested technical support from WHO for the development of a multisectoral national action plan.

These decisions were 2 key outcomes of a symposium on ending childhood obesity, jointly organized by WHO and Turkey’s Health Sciences University, which took place on 15 December 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey.

The event aimed to raise awareness of childhood obesity among high-level decision-makers, and to highlight the importance of whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches to tackling it.

National and international experts discussed evidence-based approaches to addressing obesogenic environments, and drew attention to the need to accelerate action to improve the health of this and the next generation of children.

The symposium was strengthened by contributions of high-level representatives from multiple sectors, who discussed a roadmap for integrated action across sectors and levels of government.

It also featured the participation of First Lady of Turkey Mrs Emine Erdoğan, Minister of Health Dr Ahmet Demircan, Rector of Health Sciences University Professor Cevdet Erdöl, and officials from the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. This resulted in wide media coverage that disseminated the risks posed by childhood obesity to a large audience.

Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative to Turkey, emphasized that ending childhood obesity will require a comprehensive approach involving governments, parents, caregivers, civil society, academic institutions and the private sector. “Moving from policy to action demands a concerted effort and the engagement of all sectors of society,” he explained. “Ending childhood obesity is one of the most complex health challenges facing the international community during this century. There is an urgent need to act now to improve the health of this generation and the next.”

Quoting figures for childhood obesity, Dr Demircan stated, “While obesity prevalence was 8.3% in 2013, this number has unfortunately increased to 9.9%. Children are the future, and only if we provide a healthy start for children can they have a healthy future.”

First Lady Erdoğan stated that the responsibility to resolve this problem rests with the state, the family and the individual. Drawing attention to the fact that technology addiction condemns children to spending their time indoors, she called for vigilance in addressing children’s behaviours that turn into unhealthy habits. First Lady Erdoğan further emphasized the importance of breast milk in reducing the risk of obesity, and pointed to the moral issue of unfair food distribution.

Background

The prevalence of obesity in infants, children and adolescents is rising around the world and in Turkey. Many children who are not yet obese are overweight and on the path to obesity.

Overweight prevalence among children under 5 years of age has risen from 4.8% in 1990 to 6.2% in 2016; this represents an increase in the number of children affected from 31 million to 42 million. The number of overweight children in lower-middle-income countries has more than doubled over the same period, from 7.5 million to 15.5 million.

Overweight and obesity impact a child’s quality of life, and pose major health and economic consequences for them, their families and society as a whole. Unfortunately, many children are now growing up in environments that encourage weight gain and obesity. Driven by globalization and urbanization, exposure to obesogenic environments is increasing in high-, middle- and low-income countries and across all socioeconomic groups.

The marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages is a major factor in the increase in overweight and obese children, particularly in the developing world.