Turkey hosts an assessment meeting on nutrition and physical activity

WHO

A team of international experts in nutrition and physical activity joined WHO staff in Ankara, Turkey from 25 to 29 April 2016. The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Turkish National Healthy Nutrition and Active Life Programme, following an invitation from the Turkish Ministry of Health. The evaluation is particularly important and timely, as the Ministry of Health is currently reviewing its plans for future work in improving nutrition, promoting healthy diets and physical activity, and preventing obesity.

Turkey has been, and remains, a regional leader in this area. It hosted the 1st WHO European Ministerial Conference on Counteracting Obesity in 2006, which resulted in the adoption of the European Charter on Counteracting Obesity. Following the adoption of this Charter, great progress has been made in developing and implementing the national programme. Successful measures include:

  • legislation setting maximum salt content levels in several food product categories;
  • the introduction of mandatory school food standards;
  • a commendable programme providing increased access to bicycles free of charge and cycle paths; and
  • a reorientation of the primary care system towards prevention and the implementation of a childhood obesity surveillance system in line with the WHO European initiative.

Nevertheless, obesity, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity remain major challenges for Turkey. For this reason, the country is willing to renew efforts in the area of nutrition and physical activity. Turkey remains the country in the WHO European Region with the highest population average salt intake (around 15 g per day) and has worrying rates of overweight/obesity especially among women and children.

Turkey is one of the first countries within the WHO European Region that has requested the involvement of WHO in an external evaluation. The evaluation aims to support Turkey to have a full picture of progress, opportunities and challenges, with a view to refining the activities of the relevant ministries and other stakeholders and planning future actions. Examples of good collaboration with the Ministry of National Education; the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock; and the National Broadcast Authority were witnessed, and could be built upon in the coming years.

Achieving global targets on nutrition and prevention of noncommunicable diseases

As time progresses towards 2025, many countries are looking at ways to achieve relevant global targets on nutrition and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including targets on:

  • child and adult obesity
  • salt intake
  • breastfeeding
  • physical activity
  • blood pressure.

The evaluation team will recognize the achievements of the Turkish Government in this field. At the same time, they will propose a set of recommendations for accelerating action, such as expanding salt reduction initiatives, eliminating trans fats in the food supply chain and enhancing the availability of data on dietary intake and food composition.

In this regard, a briefing for stakeholders and the media was organized on 29 April 2016 in Ankara to share the preliminary findings. The full report is forthcoming. International experts participated in the briefing and field visits to 3 provincial cities took place.

The European Region most affected by NCDs

Dr Pavel Ursu, Head of WHO Country Office in Turkey, said, "Obesity and other diet-related NCDs are one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century: all countries are affected to different extents, and notably lower socio-economic groups and children. Among the WHO regions, the European Region is the most severely affected by NCDs. In the face of such alarming figures, governments from across the world have demonstrated a renewed commitment to tackle unhealthy diets and obesity, and promote physical activity."

He added, "The recent adoption of the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 and the Physical activity strategy for the WHO European Region 2016–2025 are good examples of the high priority countries place on the prevention of obesity, and other diet- and physical activity-related NCDs." During the assessment's wrap-up meeting, he emphasized, "As such, much work has been done in the areas of food procurement in public institutions notably schools, marketing of foods to children, salt reduction and trans fat elimination, physical activity recommendations and childhood obesity surveillance. I am convinced Turkey can champion some of the prescribed actions from these policy frameworks."