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IDF panel discussion at 71st WHA
®Magali Dougados

At the 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) presented a multi-stakeholder panel discussion on May 22, 2018 entitled “Nutrition education and IDF action to tackle obesity and prevent diabetes.” The panel discussion focused on how quality nutrition education can be part of the solution to overcome the global health challenges posed by diabetes and obesity. Participants included nutrition experts, government representatives and people living with diabetes. During this event, IDF also presented a new educational guide on nutrition and diabetes, part of Kids & Diabetes in Schools (KiDS), a project aiming to foster a safe and supportive environment in schools, create a better understanding of diabetes and support children with this condition. Dr Ophra Rebiere, Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Sanofi, who presented IDF’s KiDs programme during the event, discussed the success of the initiative, which has been used in 175 schools globally, educating 60,000 children and 8,000 teachers and school staff.

IDF President, Professor Nam Cho, in his opening remarks, reminded the audience of the scale of the diabetes and obesity epidemics. IDF estimates that 425 million adults lived with diabetes in 2017, a figure expected to increase to 522 million by 2030 without concerted action. He outlined the key risk factors for diabetes and the causes for poor nutrition. He specifically singled out unhealthy, calorie-dense foods, large portion sizes and sugar-sweetened beverages and recommended that comprehensive lifestyle interventions be put in place to tackle the problem.

Speakers included Dr Tatjana Milenkovic, President of the Macedonian Diabetes Association, and Dr Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) who spoke on family health and behaviour change. These talks were followed by a series of engaging conversations from the panel, consisting of Dr Francesco Branca, WHO Director of Nutrition for Health and Development, Ms Taru Koivisto, Director of Wellbeing and Services, Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Dr Monika Arora, Health Promotion Director, Public Health Foundation India, and Paula Chinchilla, Nutritionist and Mentor of the IDF Young Leaders in Programme.

Key points discussed by the panel included the best ways to communicate with children and the need for product labelling, how to engage government, with examples given by Dr Arora from the KiDs programme in India. Paula Chinchilla stressed the need for tailored education of people living with diabetes, taking into account their age, relationship to the disease, and ability to procure healthy foods. She also emphasised how liberating this education can be for people living with diabetes, specifically in relation to their self-confidence and ability to lead an independent life.

On the occasion of the event, IDF released an action paper entitled, “Action on nutrition education to tackle obesity and prevent diabetes”. The paper outlines the link between obesity and diabetes and the long-term impact current trends will have on society and summarises key factors impacting public health today, namely the high availability of high-density processed foods and beverages, the built infrastructure and the lack of prevention and information campaigns. The IDF Action paper also stresses the need for more effective government policies and industry self-regulation in providing the required framework for the promotion of healthy eating habits and lifestyles and the need for multi-sectoral collaboration.

During the past few decades, obesity has spread at a tremendous pace. Alarmingly, it is no longer a condition that only affects adults and older people. According to the World Health Organization, 41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2016, a figure expected, if current trends continue, to reach 70 million by 2025. Lifestyle changes, in particular a shift to processed and energy‐dense foods, rich in saturated fat, salt and carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index, coupled with decreased physical activity, have been shown to be the leading cause of the rising prevalence of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

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