WHO contributes to new plans to tackle childhood obesity in Turkey

WHO/Malin Bring

In December 2017, Turkey committed to initiate multisectoral action to end childhood obesity. To support this effort, the Ministry of Health requested technical support from WHO for the development of a multisectoral national initiative.

As an initial step contributing to the success of the newly established Multisectoral Health Responsibility Programme on Ending Childhood Obesity, the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office) participated in the Steering Committee Meeting in Ankara, organized by the WHO Country Office in Turkey and the Ministry of Health, on 15 March 2018.

These developments are particularly valuable against the background of global and regional diet and physical inactivity trends, which are extremely alarming: most of the world's population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight (this includes all high-income and most middle-income countries). According to country estimates for 2008, over 50% of men and women in the WHO European Region were overweight.

Childhood obesity rates in Turkey follow the regional and global trends, and the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children has grown in the past few decades. According to the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) 2013, 22.5% of 7–8 year-olds in the country were obese or overweight (14.2% overweight, 8.3% obese). In November 2017, Dr Ahmet Demircan, the Minister of Health, stated that the prevalence of obesity had grown to around 10%.

Having recognized the problem as a national priority, Turkey placed itself at the forefront of the battle against childhood obesity in the region. The COSI initiative itself was set up in response to the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Counteracting Obesity, held in Istanbul in 2006. COSI 2013 and 2016 have been used to develop and monitor health policies for children in Turkey, such as the development of physical activity guidelines and school nutrition programmes, as well as guidelines for radio and television to help reduce marketing pressure on children.

During the meeting, Dr Joao Breda, Head of the NCD Office, and Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Scientific Coordinator from the same Office, presented insights into overweight and obesity in the Region and implementation of the recommendations of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The meeting was co-chaired by Professor Eyüp Gümüş, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health; and Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative and Head of Country Office in Turkey. During the meeting, the participants from WHO and national health policy-makers discussed the state of childhood obesity in the country and the results of the COSI survey, and elaborated on further actions to be implemented.