2021 in review: Policy & Advocacy | World Obesity Federation

2021 in review: Policy & Advocacy

News2021 in review: Policy & Advocacy

Over the past 12 months, COVID-19 has continued to disrupt social, food and healthcare systems across the globe.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the evidence base has grown immensely and shed light on the urgent need to strengthen our response to prevent, treat and manage obesity, both in current and future pandemic responses. World Obesity’s policy and advocacy team have been hard at work to shape the obesity narrative and form meaningful partnerships to advance the global agenda. Below we share a few highlights from 2021, and reflect on a vision for 2022!

Working with WHO to advance the global obesity agenda: the road map to a resolution

At the World Health Assembly in May, a resolution on diabetes was approved. Among the different recommendations, it called on WHO to develop recommendations and targets for the prevention and management of obesity over the life course. This marked an important moment where our improved understanding of the complexity and drivers of obesity are being used to develop comprehensive policy recommendations for prevention and treatment in adults and children alike.

As a non-state actor in official relations with WHO, World Obesity drafted a response to the consultation, with input from 45 Members, civil society organisations and committee members., These recommendations will now be presented to the 150th WHO Executive Board meeting in January, and World Obesity and its Members are urging the Executive Board to support an obesity resolution with an Action Plan to support implementation and development of national obesity plans.

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In addition, World Obesity Members from over 15 different countries attended this year’s WHO Regional Committee Meetings, delivering statements on relevant agenda items and reaffirming their country’s commitment to address obesity.

Recognising the important role Members hold in helping to advance our work towards an obesity Resolution, World Obesity held a WHO Bootcamp to support advocacy, discuss the value of WHO in global health, describe the success of past resolutions, and outline some of the actions that patients and Members can take at the local, national, and regional level to advocate for stronger, bolder actions to address obesity as we work hand-in-hand. Learn more.

WHO Consultation: Obesity Action Acceleration Plan

Over the last few months, WHO has had a renewed focus on obesity starting with the development of recommendations and targets on obesity which will be presented to the WHO Executive Board next month, and more recently with an informal consultation to discuss a WHO Obesity Action Acceleration Plan. The consultation, held on 14th December, brought together a number of experts on obesity policy and we were delighted that World Obesity was able to join as the civil society representative. A number of World Obesity members, volunteers and staff were involved in the consultation, including Louise Baur, Tim Lobstein, Hannah Brinsden, Johanna Ralston, Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, Boyd Swinburn, Shiriki Kumanyika and Bill Dietz, amongst others. We will not know the outcomes of the discussions until the new year, but we are optimistic that WHO remains committed to addressing obesity and are ready to support them in any way that we can.

Looking forward to 2022, the WHO Executive Board will be the first of a series of opportunities to build support towards more concrete action on obesity, including towards a resolution and Obesity Action Plan to support national obesity action plans. The documentation for the Executive Board is not yet available, but once it is we will be in touch with information on how you can get involved and advocate at a national level to help build support for the obesity agenda in Geneva.

Global Obesity Coalition

The Global Obesity Coalition (GOC), a partnership between World Obesity, World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF was established to lead, coordinate and drive global action on obesity. Focused around three pillars - changing the narrative, food environments and primary health care - GOC will focus on building momentum, and supporting advocacy and obesity plans at national, regional and global level.

The GOC joined forces for the 2021 Global Obesity Forum to reaffirm its commitments.

As said by Prof John Wilding, World Obesity’s President and Vilma Tyler from UNICEF, “This is just the beginning of our work… it is important to continue collaboration, including strengthening partnerships and alliances.”

Food systems and obesity

2021 was undoubtedly a year for debate and dialogue on food systems failures and the climate crisis, including the actions needed to combat these global challenges. The UN Food Systems Summit and Nutrition4Growth aimed to raise global awareness and deepen our understanding of the problems we must solve to change the way we produce, process, and consume food. World Obesity was involved in UNFSS preparations, including the pre-summit dialogues to advance the global food and health agendas in collaboration with WHO, FAO, and UNICEF. The Summit called for a need to reiterate the role of food systems in addressing the triple burden of malnutrition, revisiting the triple-duty-actions outlined in the Lancet Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change report.

World Obesity also launched a new policy dossier on food systems, compiling the latest available evidence on the link between food systems and obesity. More recently, World Obesity has been engaging with the Wellcome Trust Health and Climate Network. This was an opportunity to collaborate with allies for advocacy around COP26 – particularly with young leaders and activists -  to help build back fairer from the pandemic and create healthier and more just environments. We will continue this work in 2022 with the launch of a new podcast series to revisit concepts and recommendations from the Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change.

Let’s talk about childhood obesity

Earlier in 2021, we launched a three-part podcast series Youth Voices for Healthy Choices, hosted by Faith Newsome and Claudia Selin Batz, which explored the challenges and solutions to addressing childhood obesity through the voices of young people in Portugal, Austria, India, the Caribbean, and the UK. The series is available on the youth-oriented capacity-building platform, Healthy Voices. Acknowledging that youth hold a central role in addressing childhood obesity, World Obesity has been developing a number of youth-oriented advocacy briefings providing an overview of childhood obesity, food systems as well as digital marketing.

This ultimately culminated in our most recent collaboration with the Healthy Caribbean Coalition by developing a  ‘Guide for You(th) Advocates in the Childhood Obesity Space’. This guide developed by youth for youth presents a roadmap with practical strategies and guidance to carry out online and in-person advocacy work.

"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. " Margot Neveux Senior Policy Manager, World Obesity Federation

World Obesity continues to be a Consortium partner in two European projects. CO-CREATE and STOP are both committed to adopting a life course approach to assessing the determinants, system-level drivers, and appropriate interventions to address the childhood obesity epidemic.

As they approach the last stretch of their formal activities, World Obesity will continue to disseminate the activities and findings of the projects and promote scientific and popular understanding of their outputs. In 2021 an emphasis was placed on fostering and coordinating cross-collaborative activities with other projects PEN and JA Best-ReMaP – through a World Café Series.

2022: a turning point for action on obesity

2022 will be a year with ample opportunities for global action on obesity.

  • The World Obesity Federation and its Members will continue to work closely with WHO and attend January’s Executive Board Meeting, followed by the World Health Assembly in May.
  • The next focus for the GOC will be exploring opportunities for concrete action at a national level, leveraging existing networks, to support the implementation of cross-cutting obesity policies. 
  • Building on the work of EU projects – STOP and CO-CREATE – World Obesity will also continue to work with youth to amplify key messages on diets, food systems, and obesity, through advocacy toolkits. podcasts and convening events.

2021 has been a pivotal year in challenging the obesity narrative and whilst there is a way further to go, we must act together to drive meaningful change for a healthier future for everyone!