Future decision-makers, present-day changemakers: how young people are revolutionising the food system | World Obesity Federation

Future decision-makers, present-day changemakers: how young people are revolutionising the food system


28th July 2021

CO-CREATE youth take the global stage at the UN Food Systems Summit Pre-Summit in a youth-led dialogue.

‘We are failing children when it comes to health. Unless we bend the curve on obesity in Europe, every fifth child will be overweight or obese by 2025’.

These opening remarks set the tone for the CO-CREATE affiliated side session at the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit Pre-Summit. By engaging youth, experts, and policymakers to discuss the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and youth under the age of 18, the session aimed to strengthen youth-led food systems transformation through policy dialogue. The international event provided a platform to address the global challenge of childhood and adolescent overweight and obesity. 

Over the past two years, as part of the CO-CREATE project, EAT has hosted 15 Dialogue Forums, engaging over 100 participants across 11 countries. Dialogue Forums are an inclusive space for discussion and co-creation across generations and sectors. Their purpose is to refine youth-led policy ideas from multiple perspectives and turn ideas into action. 

“Young people get it. Growing up in the digital age, unhealthy food and beverage marketing techniques have bombarded their screens since Day 1. So naturally, who better than young people themselves to combat such techniques? They already know the necessary policy solutions to protect themselves, and other young people, so that they can grow up in healthier food environments. CO-CREATE is giving these solutions a platform, and it’s a fantastic project that amplifies young people’s voices directly into the ears of policymakers.” - D’Arcy Williams, Programme Officer, UNICEF

The dialogue was kicked off with a lively debate about the obstacles and opportunities of restricting unhealthy food marketing, such as industry interference and creating spaces for healthy marketing. The role and responsibility of food companies were discussed, including the need for transparency and ethical marketing. Clear guidance and education in school settings were also emphasised as essential for creating a healthy school environment. Ultimately, the dialogue reaffirmed the importance of youth, businesses, and policymakers working together in decision-making processes.  

“Businesses and policymakers should open up to young people and try to effectively communicate with them. Then we will be able to collaborate and think of small changes that can be made together step-by-step and shoulder to shoulder.” - Zuzanna Burzynska, CO-CREATE Youth Task Force

The dialogue also highlighted the importance of taking a systems approach in addressing healthy and sustainable food environments, looking beyond marketing as a single intervention. 

‘’Adopting a systems-based approach is important. We cannot look at marketing in isolation. We must look at the interconnected policy areas - the need for dietary guidelines that underpin what happens in schools, good procurement practices to make sure the healthy foods are getting into schools, incentives to reformulate products to make them healthier.” - Kate-Oldridge Turner, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, World Cancer Research Fund International.

In the coming year, the CO-CREATE Dialogue Forum tool, used to facilitate this event, will be made available through open access to allow youth, policymakers, and other decision-makers to meet, discuss and mobilise action through dialogue. 

Generational change begins with bringing young people to the table. By placing youth at the centre of the Summit process, the UN is recognising the unique role that young people play in mobilizing citizens and leading the change in food systems transformation. If food systems are to be fair, inclusive, and diverse, everyone’s perspectives must be included in decision-making. Young people around the world have a critical role in ensuring healthy and sustainable food systems for all, as tomorrow’s decision-makers and today’s changemakers! 

Authored by: Marianna Debelian, Implementation Officer, EAT & Claudia Selin Batz, Policy and Projects Coordinator, World Obesity Federation

About the CO-CREATE project: 

CO-CREATE (GA No 774210), a five-year (2018-2023) research project funded through an EU Horizon 2020 grant, aims to reduce the prevalence of obesity among adolescents in Europe through policy actions to promote a healthier food and physical activity environment. CO-CREATE vision is that before 2025, the rise in adolescent obesity will have come to a halt.

Visit the Website: www.co-create.eu 

Follow the Twitter account: @EU_COCREATE.

Read the CO-CREATE Youth Alliance Policy Briefs, a compilation of youth-developed and refined policy ideas to address the systemic factors which influence adolescent obesity and health in their respective countries.

Key messages from youth, experts and policymakers were captured during the event by Live Illustration

The populated CO-CREATE Dialogue Forum tool during the UNFSS Pre-Summit affiliated side session on unhealthy food marketing to children and youth.


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