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Health Series: Research Spotlight

The Lancet Commission on Obesity publishes major new report

Professor Corinna Hawkes is one of the Commissioners aiming to stimulate action on obesity and strengthen accountability systems

by Sophie Cubbin (PR and Communications Manager)

A major new report by The Lancet Commission on Obesity has found that leaders must take a hard line against powerful commercial drivers and rethink global economic incentives within the food system in order to tackle the joint pandemics of obesity, undernutrition and climate change.

Led by the University of Auckland (New Zealand), the George Washington University (USA), and World Obesity Federation (UK), the new Lancet Commission is the result of a three-year project led by 26 experts from 14 countries.

The Commission says maligned economic incentives, lack of political leadership, and insufficient societal demand for change are preventing action on The Global Syndemic, with rising rates of obesity and greenhouse gas emissions, and stagnating rates of undernutrition.

They are calling for a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food, redirection of US$ 5 trillion in government subsidies away from harmful products, and advocacy from civil society to break policy inertia.

Obesity epidemic

Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, is one of the Commissioners. Her expertise is in food policy, food systems and nutrition.

She explains that turning back the epidemic of obesity will mean a very different food economy for the 21st century.

We need far-sighted policy makers and private sector leaders to drive forward actions that produce benefits for obesity, undernutrition, economy and sustainability.

At the moment economic incentives are driving us to over-produce and over-consume, leading to obesity and climate change. At the same time many millions still do not have enough nutritious food, leading to undernutrition. It’s a warped system with an outdated economic model at its core.

The Global Syndemic

Commission co-chair, Professor Boyd Swinburn of the University of Auckland says:

“Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems, underpinned by the same political economy that is single-focused on economic growth, and ignores the negative health and equity outcomes.

“Climate change has the same story of profits and power ignoring the environmental damage caused by current food systems, transportation, urban design and land use. Joining the three pandemics together as The Global Syndemic allows us to consider common drivers and shared solutions, with the aim of breaking decades of policy inertia.”

The Commission aims to stimulate action on obesity and strengthen accountability systems for the implementation of agreed recommendations to reduce obesity and its related inequalities.

The release of this report follows the publication of the EAT-Lancet Commission earlier this month, which provided the first scientific targets for a healthy diet within planetary boundaries. Professor Hawkes and Professor Tim Lang from City also contributed to this report.

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