Let’s Reimagine a better world: youth perspectives on a world that prioritises the health of children and meaningful youth engagement
As the largest demographic group, young people are increasingly signalling their desire to be involved in addressing today’s leading global health challenges. Today’s societies are flooded with deep-rooted inequalities and systemic flaws, and youth won’t stay silent any longer. Youth have been at the forefront of some of the world’s most pressing issues such as climate change and the need to restructure food systems. Indeed, the latter issue has become a growing topic of interest due to the stark revelation of inequalities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns of food shortages, changes in eating behaviours, increased levels of food insecurity, and even a rise in opportunistic marketing are all consequences that have been noticed by youth. This has also led to the increased recognition of the link between food systems and obesity.
Today, unhealthy diets are responsible for more total and premature deaths than any other risk factor. We live in a world where foods high in fat, sugar, and salt always surround us, are easily accessible at a very low price, and opportunities to be physically active are reduced. This is a direct example of the failure of food systems to deliver safe and nutritious diets to everyone and one of the many causes for the rise in childhood obesity.
Young people across the globe are committed to addressing these inequalities and improving children’s health globally, including addressing childhood obesity. Despite being separated geographically, youth from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) and World Obesity Federation (WOF) have worked collaboratively on advocating to address childhood obesity and supporting allies working in this space. Both organisations acknowledge that youth-friendly tools and information are critical to strengthening youth voices and actions. With this intention, the HCC and WOF have created a new guide for young people who are ready (or have already started) to explore the world of advocacy, especially those who are interested in advocating for childhood obesity prevention and environments that prioritise and protect children’s health.
‘As youth voices grow across the globe demanding urgent action on issues such as climate change, mental health, broken food systems - HCC is proud to be an organisation leading by example - empowering young people and providing a platform for youth-led activism. This guide is the first publication of Healthy Caribbean Youth and will serve to educate and inspire youth advocates across the Caribbean seeking to tackle unhealthy food environments and stem the rise in childhood obesity.’ – Maisha Hutton, Executive Director, Healthy Caribbean Coalition
The guide presents practical strategies and guidance that can be used to carry out both online and in-person advocacy work. ‘Youth Voices in Health Advocacy Spaces: A Guide for You(th) Advocates in the Childhood Obesity Space’ was launched on, November 23rd, during a webinar chaired by Maisha Hutton, a long-time advocate for the amplification of youth voices and youth-driven interventions. Young activists from Healthy Caribbean Youth (the HCCs youth arm), CO-CREATE, and UNICEF, shed a light on their vision for the future, including the barriers and tangible strategies to inspire collective and coordinated actions to address childhood obesity.
‘It is very clear that current interventions aren't working, and that we need new bold and innovative actions. We also know that no single intervention applied alone, or policy will be able to solve the childhood obesity epidemic. So, what we need to do is to promote interventions and policies that take a life course approach and include several stakeholders, including youth.’ – Margot Neveux, Senior Policy Manager, World Obesity Federation
During his remarks, D’Arcy Williams (UNICEF) reiterated the importance of framing collective advocacy efforts within a child’s rights lens. The audience agreed, recognising that the approach is an effective advocacy tool to protect and safeguard children, particularly as it illustrates the government's obligations and the duty of non-state actors to consider children as rights-holders who are essential to any policy discourse. The adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 years ago was a pivotal point in time where leaders committed to working together.
Kimberley Benjamin, Attorney-at-Law and Healthy Caribbean Youth acknowledged strides in the Caribbean to advance the NCD agenda and to fulfil the rights of the child during her remarks. She highlighted significant gaps in the implementation of policies to restrict the availability and marketing of unhealthy food products to children in school settings. The same challenges are albeit evident in Europe. The CO-CREATE Youth Declaration Task Force, composed of eight youth representatives from Portugal, Poland, the Netherlands, and Norway, has been demanding policy change through dialogue with business leaders and policymakers.
‘When advocating for marketing, it’s tricky to define what's unhealthy or not. We realised that there are a lot of blind spots when trying to implement a policy or building a policy. Sometimes we feel we are not heard enough. Adults, just they say we are important, but at the same time they do not listen to us.’ – Mafalda Gonçalves, CO-CREATE Youth Declaration Task Force
During the panel discussion, youth advocates shared their work in the childhood obesity prevention space which included contributions to research and policy-driven advocacy. They also highlighted relevant hurdles experienced during their advocacy journeys, about access to information and resources (both financial and technical), tokenisation, and the need for more capacity-building opportunities for youth.
They shared a few tips for you(th) and youth allies:
- Build cross-sector synergies and collaborate. There is power in bringing together young people from different backgrounds and geographies to align on messaging and advocate collectively.
- To overcome information deficit, engage in interviews and conduct qualitative research with key stakeholders in your region.
- Youth allies need to ensure that youth are not just invited to the table to discuss youth-related issues but that they are meaningfully involved in contributing to the development, execution, and evaluation of interventions and policies
The take-home message was clear!
‘Youth need to be at the decision-making tables where unmuted microphones and attentive ears point in their direction. And hands and feet of allies are ready to take action not only for them but with them’- Kimberley Benjamin, Healthy Caribbean Youth
With that sentiment, we are delighted to present ‘Youth Voices in Health Advocacy Spaces: A Guide for You(th) Advocates in the Childhood Obesity Space’. Although this toolkit focuses on childhood obesity, the tools included can support youth and youth allies pursuing other advocacy areas. We hope the guide empowers you to actand supports you and your allies along the journey!
Co-authored by Claudia Selin Batz, Danielle Walwyn, Kerrie Baker, and Margot Neveux
Learn more and get involved:
- Read ‘Youth Voices in Health Advocacy Spaces: A Guide for You(th) Advocates in the Childhood Obesity Space’ and watch the recording of the event.
- Visit Healthy Caribbean Youth to learn what youth advocates who are passionate about promoting good health and supportive environments are doing
- Use the Healthy Voices platform to share your perspectives and stories through blogs and videos. You can also access a range of advocacy tools to guide you on your journey.
- Learn more about the EU-funded CO-CREATE and STOP projects that are working with young people and adolescents to halt the rise in childhood obesity across Europe.