Eight countries, with a population of less than one million, have joined forces to launch a number of initiatives that address a problem affecting over one in three children in most of these countries.
Countries taking part in the scheme include Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Malta.
“Malta is aware of the need to tackle childhood obesity, and for the last 6 months has championed addressing childhood obesity, as one of the major themes of Malta’s EU Presidency,” said Chris Fearne, the Maltese Minister for Health.
Malta—host of this year’s World Health Organization (WHO) Small Countries meeting—has given its name to the actions detailed in the Malta Statement on Ending Childhood Obesity.
“During these months Malta has launched a set of procurement guidelines for schools and other entities who work closely with children to procure healthy foods. Let’s lead by example, let’s offer our children the healthy options for life.”
The move forms part of the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020, the Physical Activity Strategy for the WHO European Region 2016–2025 and the recently adopted European Council conclusions on halting the rise in childhood overweight and obesity.
The commitment includes urging governments to put in place stronger restrictions on the marketing of high fat, salt and sugar foods to children.
As an additional measure, calls to commit to clear and easy-to-understand labelling will be actioned as will efforts to improve the nutritional composition of food products.
Efforts to increase children’s physical levels is also to be acknowledged as increasingly sedentary lifestyles have been blamed for the rise in obesity cases.
Small country initiative
In 2013, the WHO launched the Small Countries Initiative as a platform for countries in the Region with a population of less than 1 million to share their knowledge on implementing Health 2020 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The countries’ collective, community-based resilience to health issues, attributed to its small, tightly knit population, was emphasised in this year’s meeting as key to responding and even thrive with innovative solutions.
“With almost a third of school-age children overweight or obese in many countries in Europe, we must boost children’s access to healthy food and opportunities to be physically active,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.
“Children deserve policies that protect them from obesity. Small countries, with their unique circumstances and reach, can innovate, transform and develop the recipe for success so society can address this challenge that threatens children’s futures.”
Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the last twenty years or so.
According to the WHO, estimates of the number of overweight infants and children in the European Region rose steadily from 1990 to 2008.
Over 60% of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood.
Childhood obesity is strongly associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, orthopaedic problems, mental disorders, underachievement in school and lower self-esteem.