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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Amsterdam's ingenious strategy to reduce childhood obesity

Por Jade

Obesity, in addition to posing a health problem for people, is a long-term problem at the economic level for governments. Hence, many leaders take measures to cut the growth of obesity. Childhood obesity rates are increasing in many parts of the world, but not in Amsterdam. In the capital of the Netherlands, the government launched a health program that has already achieved a 12% decrease in obesity and overweight in children.

The problem of childhood obesity in Amsterdam is concentrated in the poorest areas of the city, among immigrant communities in North Africa, Turkey and Suriname. This is where the city's healthy weight program focuses its resources and this is where the decline in obesity has been greatest. Between 2012 and 2015, the percentage of overweight children decreased from 21% to 18.5%, which contributed to the reduction of 12% registered throughout the city. City authorities are cautious about numbers, but the trend is encouraging.

In a community center in the north of Amsterdam, women are cutting vegetables and cooking chicken soup. The majority are from Morocco, Syria or West Africa. A nutritionist is with them giving advice on how to cook healthier. "Obesity is a problem in Amsterdam, so it's urgent to work on this," says Fatima Ouahou, a community coordinator. "Women are those who buy and cook food, so we want them to be the example and spread the message about healthy eating," she says.

The budget for the healthy weight program in Amsterdam is just over US $ 7 million per year. Instead of hiring new staff, work with the professionals you already have, teachers, nurses, social workers and community leaders, to convey a message of healthy lifestyle. Karen den Hertog, deputy director of the program, says that they have managed to build a comprehensive system to approach the problem. "In the daily lives of children and their parents, we are able to convey a healthy message and help people to have a healthier lifestyle," she says. "Once we decided what the message was, we were surprised by the enthusiasm of all our partners: youth workers, schools, teachers, doctors and nurses, everyone is using the same message," she explains.

Much of the budget goes to support "Jump-In" elementary schools, which only allow fruits, water and healthy foods to enter the center and encourage exercise. It was here that they faced some obstacles from the parents. However, the complaints soon faded, says Pascal Reit, principal of the Pro Rege school. "There were some protests from some parents who think we should not tell them how to raise their children, now they all accept it, there's no problem anymore," he says.

To keep its message of well-being consistent, the city has banned junk food companies from advertising on the subway or sponsoring sporting events. The authorities also work with stores and supermarkets to promote the sale of fresh food. All political parties support the program and this consensus has helped to take a long-term approach to a healthier lifestyle.