Amsterdam’s Success in Tackling Childhood Obesity

20 January 2017

Do you want to be inspired?

Here is some good news: Amsterdam has been successful in tackling childhood obesity!

They launched the ‘Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme’ and the whole city managed to reduce the total number of overweight and obese children by 10% within the first two years.
This means 2000 fewer overweight children.

Moreover, the programme proved especially successful for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. 

How? – is the million dollar question. 

The biggest brains in the world keep researching, discussing and recommending solutions to this global crisis. The UK Government recently published Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action; the WHO commission spent 2 years producing a report with recommendations. Successive government have offered plans and strategies. The city of Amsterdam is on its way. 

The childhood overweight and obesity rate in Amsterdam in 2012 was 21%, which was much higher than the national average of 13%. Amsterdam is home to people from many different backgrounds; the highest percentage of overweight or obese children are Turkish or Moroccan.

The city looked for a long-term sustainable change in behaviour. A change that would be possible and desired by children and parents. The world they aspired to was one where healthy behaviours, healthy food, healthy exercise and enough sleep are automatic. This is why Amsterdam started creating the right conditions for everyone to change.

The Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme shows that a problem caused by many factors, can be only solved by targeting all those factors. They are big on prevention and well as treatment. Prevention includes the first 1000-days approach, making schools healthy, investing in neighbourhoods and communities; constructing the city in a way that promotes healthy lifestyle and creates a healthy food environment. They also focused on obesity management investing in more and better care programmes and combating morbid obesity in children. They work with individuals and they take many actions on a community and population level. 

Finally, they invest in learning, digital facilities and communication. The combination of all these efforts is what it took to make a change. However, the most important part of their success was using the personal experiences from people living in Amsterdam to build this programme. They organised meetings, panels, focus-groups and went from talking, to asking, to listening; this resulted in co-production of solutions with the communities. The programmes, interventions and changes that stemmed from it, work for the real people of Amsterdam. The city has got big plans. Their 20-year plan started in 2013; its final aim is healthy weight of all young people in Amsterdam by 2033. We must watch and learn.