World Obesity Federation at the United Nations General Assembly

NewsWorld Obesity Federation at the United Nations General Assembly

Every September, representatives from all 193 UN Member States come together in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is an opportunity to discuss and work together on a wide array of international issues covered by the Charter of the UN. The theme of this year’s General Debate was ‘Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion’. As well as the plenary sessions, the programme included the first Climate Action Summit, High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), and High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. To complement the main agenda, there are also 100s of side events held in parallel, in which civil society, private sector and other actors’ network and discuss the issues in more depth.

UNGA is an important milestone in the calendar for the World Obesity and a busy week for the policy team. This year members from The Obesity Society, Lee Kaplan and Terry Huany, were present in New York along with WOF CEO Johanna Ralston, Policy Fellow Rachel Thompson and Communications and Partnerships Officer Claudia Batz, to make sure obesity was a feature of conversations on UHC, but also to talk to climate advocates about the links between obesity and climate change. Over seven days World Obesity actively participated in over 30 events! Here is a summary of their highlights.

Connecting the dots between health and climate agendas

The topics of health and climate, and the links between them, were the centre of many discussions and events. In preparation for UNGA Rachel Thompson wrote a blog on these connections, highlighting how food and food systems are an important area for joint solutions. The 2019 Lancet Commission on Obesity: The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change was raised in many events by World Obesity and other speakers. Johanna Ralston spoke about the Syndemic at a Planetary Health Dialogue, which aimed to support exchange between the environment and health communities on the linkage between climate change and Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). She explained how current systems are ‘bankrupting the health sector and exhausting the planet’, and how by using a Syndemic approach we can find triple win solutions to reduce obesity, end undernutrition and mitigate climate change.

Team World Obesity Walking the Talk to beat NCDs

Bright and early on Sunday morning World Obesity participated in Walk the Talk: The Health for All Challenge, held over 4 miles in New York's beautiful Central Park. This fun run/walk brought together people from all over the world for a celebration of health, on the eve of the UNGA.

Attending the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage

World Obesity was one of the civil society organizations in attendance at the High-Level Meeting on UHC. Johanna Ralston was in the room to hear several heads of state talk about the challenge of obesity as their priority issue. Building on the declaration from last year’s High-Level Meeting, NCDs were a key theme in many countries’ statements. These additional UHC commitments set the framework for the urgent country-level action on NCDs required to achieve Health for All.

Read more about World Obesity’s work on UHC here

Read excellent analysis of the meeting by consultant Katy Cooper here.

Dialogue with the private sector

Multi-stakeholder action is crucial to help prevent and treat obesity. The UNGA is an important forum to facilitate dialogue with the private sector and to help address the commercial determinants of health. Johanna Ralston addressed members of the business community as part of a UN Global Compact event: Health is Everyone’s business. She spoke about the need to change the narrative and focus on alignment rather than conflict of interest, and to recognise that triply duty approaches across the food system and climate change requires trade-offs but can result in triple wins over the long term, Terry Huang, The Obesity Society board member, and representative of the WOF Executive Committee, also participated in the dialogue. 

Nutrition as part of Universal Health Coverage

World Obesity also participated in a high-level side event on investing in nutrition and UHC for healthier populations. The event was supported by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. We heard from the governments of Uruguay, Colombia, Côte D’Ivoire, and the UK about their commitments to end malnutrition in all forms. Rachel Thompson highlighted how obesity is often found in the same places as undernutrition, and why tackling the double burden of malnutrition in UHC must be the priority for all actors. 

Obesity in the SDGs

To coincide with the SDG Summit at the UN General Assembly, World Obesity’s consultant Katy Cooper highlighted the many opportunities to address obesity within the Sustainable Development Goals in this blog.

Finally, World Obesity was excited to run in to Dr Tedros. Director General of the World Health Organization in the corridors of the UN!