New policies needed to tackle obesity epidemic
17 December 2007
An international team of researchers, led by Dr Sharon Friel (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health), has recommended that governments and health professionals around the world must change their policy agendas in order to tackle the global obesity epidemic.
The team's report is published in this week's British Medical Journal, which suggests that rather than focusing on making individuals eat more healthily and be more physically active, they call for wider action to tackle the unequal social distribution of obesity within and between countries.
Dr Friel is Principle Investigator for the World Health Organsiation's Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, directed by UCL's Professor Sir Michael Marmot. She co-authored the report with Mickey Chopra, Director of the Health Systems Research, South Africa, and David Satcher, Director of the Center of Excellence on Health Disparities, Morehouse School of Medicine USA and former USA Surgeon General.
The trio looked at how the conditions within which people trade, live, and work affect health, through their influence on behaviour and weight. These include food subsidies, advertising, urban planning, employment and social structure. Dr Friel stated: "Unless this is addressed, the obesity epidemic and its inequalities will persist and possibly increase. The need for wider policy action is being recognised. For example, the WHO's global strategy on diet, physical activity, and health identifies the social determinants of the obesity epidemic and in Europe, ministers have committed to balancing responsibility between individuals and society. The recent UK Foresight Report also highlights that most drivers of obesity are societal issues and therefore require societal responses."
Despite these efforts, the global obesity epidemic continues and its social gradient persists. Dr Friel added: "Tackling global obesity requires concerted action at global, national and local levels to promote a more equal distribution of affordable nutritious food, and improved more equitable living and working conditions. The health professions are key to spearheading such an effort."
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Image: Dr Friel