Over the past decades, overweight and obesity rates have been increasing worldwide, with 158 million children between the ages of five and 19 currently living with obesity; a number that is predicted to increase by 100 million in just five years, to 254 million by 2025. This increase has been occurring across very different countries, ages and socioeconomic groups, showing it is due to a change in society, not individuals.
Responding to the obesity epidemic
In response to this obesity crisis, I convened a consortium of organisations to work together in the Confronting obesity: Co-creating policy with youth project, known as CO-CREATE. This involves 14 international research and advocacy organisations, including World Cancer Research Fund, working together to improve upstream and environmental factors (for example, unhealthy foods being more affordable than healthy foods) instead of tackling behaviour change at an individual level.
CO-CREATE is a unique and innovative project that aims to provide a model of how to involve young people, and a range of relevant stakeholders, in shaping obesity policy through politicising the issue of obesity. It does this through providing specific, obesity-related policy proposals, and through designing and testing tools and strategies for policy implementation and evaluation.
Creating a tool to decrease obesity rates
A core part of the project is the innovative tools that find and develop policies promoting healthy diets and physical activity. I’ve been closely associated with World Cancer Research Fund having worked with them to develop and improve the methodology of their NOURISHING database – a tool that collects and organises nutrition policies from around the world into the NOURISHING framework.
Working with World Cancer Research Fund, it struck me that the attributes of the NOURISHING database and policy framework could be taken forward into physical activity. With leadership and technical development from their Policy and Public Affairs team, and a group of physical activity policy experts, the MOVING policy framework and database were born under the CO-CREATE project.
The MOVING database
The MOVING database collects physical activity policies currently implemented around the world, to inspire people to tackle obesity through policy by encouraging them to move more. The database’s policies include topics essential for allowing people to be physically active regardless of their stage of life – such as in schools, by including active transport in urban planning, and educating people on the positive effects of physical activity.
MOVING’s policy areas were identified from a systematic review of the global literature, which was analysed by a panel of policy advisory experts – including myself – from across the globe.
The MOVING and NOURISHING databases can:
- help identify where action is needed to promote healthy diets and increase physical activity;
- showcase policies already implemented around the world;
- track progress in the adoption of health-promoting policies;
- provide guidance to decision-makers who are looking for effective policies.
The databases can be used freely by anyone, including young people, as they are intuitive, and are structured so it is easy to find the policy area being searched for. If users are looking for a specific policy, they can also search by nutrition or physical activity policies, by topic, country, or only search for policies that have been evaluated. There are also options to share search findings across social media platforms, or download the search results so they can be analysed.
Building back better and tackling the obesity crisis
The COVID-19 crisis has made the world more aware than ever before about the importance of health and wellbeing. However, its repercussions have led to an increased consumption of unhealthy foods and decreased physical activity – which has exacerbated the obesity crisis.
It has never been more important to look at physical activity and nutrition policy, and engage with young people, as we must all work together to Build Back Better. Together, the MOVING and NOURISHING databases are exactly the kind of innovative policy monitoring tools that the obesity crisis is calling for.