Uppsala Health Summit

Three Questions to Dr Sania Nishtar, Co-chair of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity


Dr Sania Nishtar

At the World Health Assembly this spring, it was recommended that Member States develop national responses to end childhood and adolescent obesity.  If you were to put yourself in the shoes of a Minister of Health of a low-income, middle-income or high-income country respectively, where would you focus your efforts? Where, in your opinion can the greatest gains be made?

- Childhood obesity is a complex issue, and no single intervention will halt the rise and I would encourage all countries to consider concerted, sustained action. Addressing the food environment through education, fiscal measures and marketing restrictions will have benefits not only for children, but also adults. Improving access to physical activity likewise.

-The recommendations in the report that focus on critical periods in the life-course build upon and strengthen preconception, antenatal and maternal health care, support action to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and young child nutrition to give all children the healthiest start in life. And activities embedded in schools, that integrate health and nutrition education into the core curriculum and make healthy food and physical activity choices the easy choices are key to forming healthy habits amongst today’s children and adolescents, who are the parents and caregivers of tomorrow.

-Many countries have already implemented, or are planning to implement some of the recommendations in our report;  each will need to assess the childhood obesity situation, set national targets for action and make commitments for which they can be held to account, if real progress is to be made.

Now that the work of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity has been completed. What are some of the lessons you take with you from being involved in the Commission’s work that you would like to share?

- The Commission was composed of 15 eminent, but also very hard-working and genuinely concerned individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds. I think the variety of opinion and range of perspectives brought to the process by this very fact, made for an enormously enriching experience. Very early on in our deliberations we emphasised the importance of gathering opinion from around the world, given the nature of the childhood obesity epidemic, and the Commissioners embarked on an intensive series of regional and global consultations.

-We visited all six WHO regions, and held a special consultation for the Pacific Island countries and territories, in recognition of their particular situation. In total we met with representatives from 118 countries and the valuable feedback we heard contributed greatly to the development of the report. But, in order to really give everyone a chance to be part of the process, we also held two online consultations, which were open to the public at large, as well as Member States, academics, NGOs and the private sector.

-I think this level of engagement and consultation brought a depth to the Commission’s work which wholly complimented the science and evidence that we considered.

At Uppsala Health Summit we will be joined by economists, social scientists, representatives from health care, industry and NGOs to discuss concrete actions to reduce childhood obesity. One of our goals is to contribute to the WHO implementation plan. What are some of the issues you think is important that we address in our discussions?

- It is abundantly clear that we will only succeed in tackling childhood obesity through multisectoral action. A forum such as the Uppsala Health Summit, which strives to bring together different sectors, provides a wonderful platform for developing multisectoral collaboration.

-How such collaborations are formed and most importantly managed and sustained in each setting, what structures need to be put in place and how to fully engage sectors that may not yet realise how they can contribute, are the challenges we must now address. Governments around the World need to take responsibility on behalf of the children of today and tomorrow and show the necessary leadership for there to be meaningful action.