Global Communities and society, Health and social care, Public health

Tackling obesity: Case studies and resources for local government


Every week, we highlight inspiration and innovation from local government worldwide. In this article, we focus on those who are tackling obesity and creating healthier communities. You’ll find best practice from Finland, the Philippines, Argentina and the Netherlands, along with plenty of practical policy and resources for more insight and guidance on the topic.

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Obesity policy innovation and inspiration examples from the local government sector

Finland: City curbs childhood obesity by integrating health across departments

The City of Seinäjoki was facing alarming rates of obesity among its youngest residents, with close to 1 in 5 five-year-olds being overweight or obese. To tackle this, the municipality’s health department partnered with the city’s childcare, education, recreation and urban planning departments to ensure a consistent standard of nutrition and physical activity across all day care centres and schools. Across the city, the municipality worked to make school playgrounds more appealing and varied. Sugary snacks were replaced with healthy lunches, and parents received guidance on healthy eating. The approach has seen success, with the proportion of five-year-olds with obesity or being overweight having halved.

BMC Public Health

The Philippines: Healthier food policies across Quezon City
As part of the Partnership for Healthy Cities, Quezon City, the Philippines, is trying to help tackle the country’s non-communicable deaths, which account for 70% of deaths nationally. Locals in Quezon City are fond of dining out, with many opting for fast food options. With the City also having one of the highest obesity rates in the country, the city government launched a string of stronger food policies. These include an ordinance requiring all food establishments and restaurants to include nutritional information, such as calories and sugar levels, on their menus. In addition, the city has moved to ban the sale or advertisement of sugary drinks in schools, and has tightened requirements on food procured by the city government.

The Guardian

Argentina: “Move for Fun” seeks to make physical activity more accessible for vulnerable communities
A pilot project focused on boosting access to physical activity among young people has seen success in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The pilot centres on letting more children from vulnerable inner-city communities and neighbourhoods participate in physical activity. Designed for children aged 6 to 12, the pilot seeks to improve health outcomes through urban dance, skating, and football-related activities, providing secure spaces for children to engage in physical education and receive good nutrition. Despite challenges such as unpredictable attendance and limited resources, the program successfully engaged 630 children in 8 sites.

Cities Changing Diabetes

The Netherlands: The Amsterdam Healthy Weight Approach

A whole systems strategy delivered at the city level, the Amsterdam Healthy Weight Approach is viewed as the. The long-term approach is designed to factor into every domain of a child’s life: Rather than considering childhood obesity as just a public health matter, it requires all city departments to contribute in their policies and planning. Impacts are reportedly continuously monitored to make necessary adjustments. The programme has been linked to a city-wide decrease in childhood obesity, with the percentage of overweight and obese kids aged two to eight falling from 21% to 18.7% in 2017. The scheme is budgeted until 2033, when the city’s first ‘healthy generation” will turn 18 years old.

Gemeente Amsterdam / RSPH / Obesity Science & Practice

Obesity resources to help build more resilient communities

Old file folders books

Themed Review: How can local authorities reduce obesity? Insights from NIHR research
This review identifies 143 NIHR-funded studies on obesity of relevance to local authorities, covering an array of formats, interventions and settings. 

Briefing: Adolescence and young adulthood: an untapped window of opportunity for obesity prevention

This Australian briefing discusses the importance of addressing obesity in adolescents and young adults (AYA) as a critical window for establishing lifelong health trajectories. It highlights the historical neglect of AYA in healthcare planning and the need for personal empowerment strategies matched with environments supporting healthy decision-making. Challenges include engaging AYA in meaningful ways and addressing the impacts of the digital age on their health, which include greater physical inactivity, easier access to processed/junk foods, and toxic social media environments. The paper emphasises the need for coordinated, multidisciplinary action to support AYA in leading healthy lifestyles.

Report: Tackling obesity, improving policy making on food and health

Since 1992, every UK government has missed targets to reduce obesity. This report published by the Institute for Government explores the reasons behind this policy failure, which it pins on fear from ministers of perceptions of nanny statism, regardless of strong public support for ambitious measures to tackle obesity. It argues that despite 14 strategies, hundreds of policies and numerous institutional reforms, tackling obesity is not prioritised by the Department of Health and there is currently no serious plan to do so.

Report: Pathways to equitable food systems

This paper brings together studies from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America to highlight ways to address the power imbalances that have led to inequities in our food systems. Worsening diets, normalised hunger and rising obesity are trends made worse by highly inequitable food systems. The report recommends bringing together community and government-led policies to specifically target inequality, while ensuring attention is paid to who will benefit most from proposed initiatives to ensure marginalised people are explicitly supported.

Evidence brief: Childhood obesity: reducing the risk through early-life measures

Early life nutrition is an integral aspect of a child’s current and health. This evidence brief examines how different forms of this nutrition, be it prenatal exposures, caregiver feeding practices, and childhood eating behaviours, can contribute to the risk of being overweight or obese as a child, while tackling effective preventative approaches 

Report: The future of food: opportunities to improve health through reformulation

This report considers whether we can make the food we eat healthier by reducing its calorie density. Reformulation requires using new ingredients, recipes or manufacturing processes to reduce the calorie density of foods. This process holds potential in tackling the prevalence of unhealthy foods, as these changes are often imperceivable to consumers and don’t require individual-level behaviour changes. This report is targeted at policy-makers and highlights the barriers and opportunities they will face. It also examines the food categories that could be promising targets for reformulation.

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