Uppsala Health Summit

Dr Alessandro Demaio on the power of youth engagement, advocacy and SMART policy commitments


Dr Alessandro Demaio
Dr Alessandro Demaio, Medical Officer at the WHO Department for Non-Communicable Conditions and Nutrition where he is involved in developing global guidance for member countries on early nutrition.

Prior to his engagement with the WHO, Dr Demaio founded the advocacy organization NCD FREE. Dr Demaio will join Uppsala Health Summit on Ending Chilhood Obesity in October.

What are your expectations ahead of Uppsala Health Summit?

- I have high hopes! I think it is an excellent opportunity to gather the diverse players that together, are crucial to addressing and solving the global challenge of childhood obesity. To do this we need actors from different organizations, regions and communities to come together – it can only be solved through work on multiple levels, including strong and supported civil society.

Prior to your engagement with the WHO you founded the advocacy movement NCDFREE. Why is it important to raise awareness around Non-Communicable Diseases?

- There are still many misconceptions around obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). We need to debunk the myths and associations to laziness, and NCDs being a matter of poor choices. In fact, today - the majority of people affected live in low- and middle income countries while in wealthier nations, these diseases are associated with relative poverty. Through evidence-informed advocacy we can raise awareness around the fact that NCDs result from and drive poverty and inequality.

What are the challenges and opportunities associated with working with young people on these issues?

- The challenge is the nature of NCDs. Most young people will never experience NCDs until much later in life… so we need to craft the message in a way that it appeals to young people, to make it more relevant and relates to things that young people care about, such as the economy or the environment. If we improved the food system or more people chose to walk to work, people would be healthier and the planet would be a nicer place to live. Let’s talk about the co-benefits across the many issues young people can connect with today….

- The good news is that young people are aware, socially-driven and globally-connected. They value equality and social justice. There is a real opportunity in getting messages across that instill a sense of urgency and make it clear that there are co-benefits for everyone in fighting NCDs.

At the World Health Assembly (WHA), the Ministers of Health from across the world agreed to adapt the WHO Commission´s recommendations on actions to end childhood obesity. What is the significance of this do you think and are you hopeful that this will make a difference?

- Oh yes I am hopeful…there was also a side-event to the WHA where NGO´s and government representatives met and committed to work together and create actions to bring down childhood obesity and address all forms of malnutrition. 

- There were also two very important resolutions for nutrition that passed at the highest health policy level this spring that could really set the stage for change: first of all, the United Nations General Assembly agreed a resolution proclaiming the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025. An unprecedented opportunity for nutrition, this is a UN-led and Member State-driven global initiative to set, track and achieve  SMART policy commitments to end all forms of malnutrition with and for the Sustainable Development Agenda, framed by the Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Thank you Dr Demaio and welcome to Uppsala Health Summit!

- Thank you.