Overweight has been a major social problem for some time already, and the coronavirus pandemic has only served to exacerbate it. In order to successfully combat youth overweight, adolescents are calling for bold and collective action. By means of the CO-CREATE research project, in which the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is also participating, they have formulated their own policy advice on how to create healthier environments.
In 2016, nearly 41 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 were overweight or obese in Europe. In the Netherlands in the same year, 18.2% of boys and 12.1% of girls aged 5-19 were obese. These figures are only expected to continue to rise even further and faster. In the Netherlands, various programmes have been launched to combat overweight among adolescents and young adults, such as clear information on packaging, healthy choices at school and a healthy living environment. However, the rising figures reflect that something is missing from this approach.
CO-CREATE is a research project that aims to reduce overweight by explicitly involving adolescents themselves. They therefore work together in various alliances in the project in order to develop ideas for policies that address structural factors that influence overweight and its growing levels among adolescents. In the Netherlands, this took place in cities such as Almere and Amsterdam. A number of the resulting ideas have now been elaborated further. These were also presented at ‘World Obesity Day’, organised by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March.
When it comes to food, the adolescents advise introducing a sugar tax and making healthy food cheaper and more visible in retail outlets, while unhealthy food should be made more expensive and less visible.
‘We want healthy food, such as fruit and vegetables, to be offered more cheaply in supermarkets. We also want supermarkets to have clearly visible displays of healthy food that really stand out. We also want unhealthy food, such as crisps and Red Bull, to be sold at higher prices in supermarkets and given less space in the shops (not at the end of an aisle, for example) and to be less conspicuous,’ they say.
They also recommend a Kitchen take-over in which adolescents choose the recipes themselves and cook hot and healthy meals in their school canteens. For example, they state that ‘The food in our canteen is not good. They consider toasted sandwiches and cheese sandwiches to be healthy. I don't think that's healthy.’
The adolescents also formulated advice in the areas of mental health and well-being. They suggest The Helping Hand, which involves the young helping their peers to prevent problem eating. ‘Unhealthy food or drugs, that’s just not right for a 13-year-old. It's not good for kids to do drugs or start eating way too much so young, they really need to talk to someone about their problems. (...) Some do like talking to adults, but others would rather talk to someone their own age. This should be done in schools, as a project. Someone could visit the first, second and third-year pupils to ask if they can help,’ explain the youngsters.
Finally, adolescents brought attention to a healthy and sustainable living environment, with bins in central locations that are intended to make throwing away and separating waste easier and more fun for them. This will also encourage adolescents to eat more healthily, as healthy products often have less packaging.
Over a five-year period (2018-2023), CO-CREATE aims to reduce overweight among adolescents in Europe through policies that promote healthier living environments with food and exercise. The project aims to halt the increase in adolescent obesity by 2025. The CO-CREATE project has received funding for this purpose from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (2016-2017 work programme: food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bioeconomy) under grant agreement no. 774210.
The research is being conducted at the department of Sociology, contact: Christian Bröer, email@example.com