World Obesity at the 72nd World Health Assembly

May 20, 2019

The 72nd World Health Assembly took place from 20th-28th May 2019 in Geneva.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the decision-making body of WHO, attended by delegations from all WHO Member States as well as non-state actors including private sector and civil society. World Obesity is in ‘official relations’ with the WHO and therefore was able to have a strong presence throughout the week, where the team connected with civil society partners and WHO colleagues to raise the profile of obesity and (Non Communicable Disease) NCDs on member states’ agendas for the coming year.

World Obesity delivered several statements linked to our policy priorities, and participated in and spoke at high profile events, highlighting obesity at sessions ranging from digital health to acccess in low resource settings to innovative financing for NCDs including obesity. We held our own well-attended breakfast meeting on childhood obesity and the global syndemic (see below), and supporrted two other side events focused on prevention and Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Walk The Talk

For the second year, WHA delegates also had the opportunity to ‘Walk the Talk’ on their health and wellbeing goals. Undeterred by the weather, Team World Obesity joined fellow walkers and runners to spread the World Obesity Day message around Geneva. 

The WHA was an opportunity to emphasize the importance of updating the definition of obesity within the Eleventh edition of International Classification of Disease, an issue World Obesity has been working on closely with members and partners.

The biggest topic on the agenda relevant to obesity was Universal Health Coverage (UHC). UHC in principle means that all individuals and communities recieve the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.It includes the full spectrum of essential, quality health services, from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.

UHC is a key priority for WHO Director General Dr Tedros and is being embraced by member states and civil society as they prepare for the High Level Meeting, to be held at the UN General Assembly in September. Our statement on UHC stressed how obesity services will likely an essential part of healthcare packages in all contexts. In addition, investing in the prevention of obesity as part of UHC will deliver many additional public health gains and help ensure the health and productivity of future generations.

World Obesity has also been working closely with partners such as the World Research Cancer Fund, NCD Alliance and other member of the International Coalition of Advocacy on Nutrition (ICAN) to raise the profile of nutrition within global health agendas. Together we prepared joint statements on nutrition and UHC, as well as the outcome of the Second International Conference on Nutrition.



Momentum around climate change has reached global health and the planetary emergency was a big theme of the week, and an opportunity for World Obesity to promote our work on the Global Syndemic of obesity, undernutrition and climate change. In his opening speech to the Assembly, Dr Richard Horton of the Lancet also highlighted the importance of addressing obesity and food systems. Our statement on health and environment emphasized the links between human and planetary health and urged member states to confront the issue of interference from ‘vested interests’ (such as the fossil fuel industry) and to consider the triple duty policies that can help progress health, nutrition and environmental goals.


Childhood obesity and the Global Syndemic side event: A New Narrative for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

This event brought together civil society, private sector, academic, government and UN actors to discuss childhood obesity and the Global Syndemic. These issues are two of World Obesity’s policy priorities, relevant for the 72nd World Health Assembly where climate change, health for all and nutrition were being debated. The aim of the event was to inform and engage WHA participants around the interconnected issues of childhood obesity and the Global Syndemic, as well as to provoke and capture novel thinking to help World Obesity and partners advance action.  In the context of global rising childhood obesity, the event was focused around key questions related to framing the benefits of syndemic thinking for different stakeholders, overcoming challenges of coordination inertia, and synergistic implementation of recommendations from both recent Lancet commissions on nutrition and food systems. Our partners included EAT, UNICEF, NCD Child, NCD Free, WCRF International, with support from Novo Nordisk. You will be able to read the event summary here. (out soon!)

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