Statement to the 72nd Session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific
World Obesity and our members in the region commend WHO and its Member States in the WPRO for their early action to control the novel coronavirus and post-pandemic recovery plan.
However, there is an urgent need to step up policy action and investment in NCDs and obesity prevention, treatment and management, now and in future preparedness plans, and take action on obesity as part of global health security efforts.
Obesity is a complex multifactorial disease that both independently increases mortality rates and is also a major risk factor for the three NCDs responsible for the majority of premature deaths worldwide - cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Early on in the pandemic, it also became clear that obesity is a major risk factor for COVID-19 complications and mortality. World Obesity’s latest report highlighted the correlation between COVID-19 deaths rates and obesity: death rates are ten times higher in countries where over 50% of the population is overweight, and 90% of deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in countries with high obesity rates.
World Obesity’s Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity predicts that by 2025 the highest number of children aged 5-19 years living with obesity will be in the WPRO, accounting for 62 million, or 17% of children. No country in the region is on track to meet WHO obesity targets, and all 10 of the top 10 countries with the largest proportion of adults over 20 years living with obesity are in the WPRO. In the context of COVID-19, these facts and figures have a new urgency.
COVID-19 has exposed fatal weaknesses in the most advanced health systems, where there has not been room to address seemingly less urgent problems such as the ongoing burden of ill health due to obesity and poor diets. Since the start of the pandemic, treatment and support for the chronic NCDs prevalent among people with obesity/overweight, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease clinics, have receded, exacerbating risk of strokes and ‘heart attacks’. The social, economic, and specifically racial, determinants of health have been identified as the root cause of health disparities and poor outcomes related to COVID-19.
When preparing their plans for the recovery of COVID-19 and future pandemics, it is vital that we focus on ensuring that the health of vulnerable groups is sustained. We urge Member States to:
- Allocate health system resources to ensure appropriate care for people living with obesity who require COVID-19 treatment, while ensuring access to routine services remains, now and in the event of future pandemics.
- Ensure responses to ongoing and future health emergencies integrate prevention policies for obesity and other NCDs, including improving health education, enabling equitable access to nutritionally adequate food, support physical activity and promote good mental health
- Adopt systems-based approaches between health and other sectors to address the upstream factors influencing obesity and related NCDs, including lack of access to healthy food, poorly designed built environments, access to health services and education
- Call for high-level political commitment and investment in universal health coverage, ensuring efforts are cross-departmental and cross-sectoral. Governments should invest in obesity care across the whole spectrum and include obesity in NCD and COVID-19 recovery plans
- Ensure the health workforce is adequately trained to treat vulnerable populations in a culturally-sensitive, non-stigmatising way
Actions to address obesity and NCDs will be essential to help prevent the disproportionate impact of pandemics on vulnerable populations. Until the arrival of COVID-19, the health consequences of obesity were underplayed and conflated with other issues. Member States in the Western Pacific region have the opportunity to fast-track the implementation of nutrition and other public health policies to improve overall health and strengthen population resilience to future health threats.