According to a new report from the the McKinsey Global Institute, the impact of rising obesity rates is now costing the world £1.3 trillion a year. With more and more countries affected, is it time for a new approach to tackling this urgent problem?

The Brazilian government has taken an unexpected, but welcome, step towards dealing with its obesity crisis by introducing ‘food-based’ guidelines, which include a focus on freshly prepared foods that use oils, fats, sugars and salts in moderation, and a warning about food advertisements and marketing tactics. This is drastic move away from the usual recommendations of food pyramids and the ‘eatwell plate’, provided by most governments.

But Brazil is not the only country moving away from convention. Recognising the threat both to the health of its citizens and to the economy, the Nordic Council of Ministers has created an inspirational toolbox to improve the health of Nordic peoples.

Nordic cuisineIn confronting the health and nutrition challenges of the 21st century, the Nordic Council sees its strength in cooperation. The toolbox presents a new approach to nutrition, research and consumer labelling by bringing together the expertise of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, as well as Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands.

The toolbox is made up of a collection of resources, including the Council’s current action plan for tackling obesity, which has a particular focus on children and young people, dietary guidelines and effective labelling. Unlike the United Kingdom, which relies on a traffic light system for labelling, the Nordic Council has created one ‘keyhole’, which certifies that the product has met certain requirements for salt, sugar, fat and fibre content. The aim is to make it easier for consumers to find and choose healthier foods.

Most notably, the nutritional recommendations not only support overall good health but also consider environmental and ecological factors, such as food production methods, seasonality and the origin of food.

Asked about the toolbox, Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, London, commented in an interview with Norden:

“Nutrition isn’t just nutrition… Nutrition is also a social science, it’s an environmental science and in the Nordic recommendations that narrative of health, environment, society and culture is very subtly woven in and that’s fantastic, really fantastic, because that is the challenge the world faces.”

Critically, all of the information within the toolbox is available online for free. Let’s hope that other governments start following this example to create a more holistic approach to tackling the obesity epidemic.

Featured image by Gustav Lindqvist, in text image by Laissez Fare

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  • Pete Myers

    This is good but not holistic enough. A solid body of studies published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature now indicates that another contributing factor is exposure to chemical contaminants called obesogens. Obesogens act in several ways, the best known being through changes in gene expression that drive mesenchymal stem cells to become fat cells instead of bone cells. Exposure to obesogens, a subset of chemical contaminants known as endocrine disruptors, is very common because they are widely used in many consumer products and in agriculture. And the levels of exposure commonly experienced is within the range that they cause this effect. Any truly holistic approach to the obesity epidemic must also address obesogenic chemicals. Here are some useful links: (media coverage) (another cut into media coverage)

    a particularly good column by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:

    Pete Myers
    Environmental Health Sciences