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October 10, 2017

On World Obesity Day, Vital Strategies Urges Governments To Accelerate Work On Obesity Prevention

(New York, USA) – On World Obesity Day, Vital Strategies joins the global public health community in urging governments and civil society to take action to prevent obesity-related disease and premature death. Vital Strategies also announced the availability of 19 tested and proven mass media campaign ads designed to address issues related to obesity prevention, such as the harms of sugary drinks and industry marketing to children. The ads are available online at Media Beacon; most are free to license and simple to adapt, enabling governments to rapidly and cost-effectively implement media campaigns to support these critical health policies.

A new study from WHO and Imperial College London reveals there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of obese children and adolescents over the past 40 years. Childhood obesity is strongly correlated with adult obesity and related disease. Without urgent action, 2.7 billion adults will suffer from overweight and obesity by 2025 and the related global health costs will reach US$1.2 trillion per year.

Obesity is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and some cancers – four of the top 11 global causes of death, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. Real progress in reducing preventable deaths from non-communicable disease cannot be made without halting and reversing the global epidemic of overweight and obesity. The rapidly growing burden of childhood obesity demonstrates an urgent need for early intervention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of overweight and obese children and adolescents globally increased by 11 million between 2000 and 2016, to 41 million.

“Today, over 2 billion people are overweight or obese across the world, and the problem is growing rapidly amongst children under the age of five,’ said José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vital Strategies. “Obesity and poor diet are major drivers of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These largely preventable diseases have a disproportionate impact in low-and middle-income countries where 80% of NCD deaths occur, and are contributing to unsustainable health and economic burdens worldwide. These burdens have escalated rapidly in line with the increased global availability of processed, unhealthy foods and beverages. When direct health costs alone are estimated to reach more than a trillion dollars every year, governments cannot afford to stand by.

“Consumers can’t make properly informed choices when, from childhood, they have been bombarded with positive messages and images about junk foods and sugary drinks. Proven, cost-effective ways of reducing consumption include changing attitudes about the proven health harms of products like sugary drinks and raising prices and taxes to persuade consumers to switch to healthier alternatives. Progress has been painfully slow as the food and beverage industry hides the truth about its products and delays and derails health policy.

“Fortunately, an increasing number of countries are recognizing the severity of this epidemic. A number of city, state and national governments are following Mexico’s example of implementing taxes on sugary drinks; several countries are considering following Chile’s example in adopting clear and comprehensive food labelling; and more mass media campaigns are being run to change consumer attitudes about the health harms of unhealthy products. Political will can deliver the action needed to reduce obesity. Vital Strategies stands ready to assist government and civil society in that important work.”

Campaigns support policy and behavior change

Policymakers and health advocates need to rebut decades of positive imagery of unhealthy foods and beverages and show the real health harms caused by these products in order to build support for obesity prevention policies and encourage personal behavior change. Over the past year, Vital Strategies has provided technical support to governments and civil society in five countries to help implement obesity prevention mass media campaigns. These campaigns have focused on topics like the health harms of sugary drinks and the way the food and beverage industry targets children – in spite of supposed voluntary bans.

In South Africa, campaigns have helped to increase support for a sugary drinks tax over the past year from 42 percent to 70 percent (if the revenue collected is invested in programs to benefit the public). In Colombia, journalists reported that the “Take It Seriously” obesity prevention mass media campaign was taken off the air after a complaint filed by Postobón – the largest beverage company in Colombia and one of the largest across South America. Colombia’s Supreme Court subsequently ordered the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC) to lift its censorship of the campaign.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health expert, please contact press@vitalstrategies.org.

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