The World Health Organisation (WHO) named the University of Stirling’s Professor Gerard Hastings this week, as an expert advisor to a new global commission on ending childhood obesity.
Speaking at the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Monday 19 May, Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, voiced her deep concern about the increase worldwide of childhood obesity, with numbers climbing fastest in developing countries. “As the 2014 World Health Statistics report bluntly states, ‘Our children are getting fatter’,” she said.
To gather the best possible advice on dealing with this crisis, Dr Chan announced she has established a high-level Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The Commission will produce a consensus report specifying which approaches are likely to be most effective in different contexts around the world. The recommendations of the report will be announced at next year’s Health Assembly.
The Commission will be advised by two working groups: an expert group of scientists to review the science and evidence and identify possible solutions; and a working group on implementation, monitoring and accountability.
Professor Gerard Hastings, from the University of Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing (ISM) and Centre for Tobacco Control Research, who will join one of the working groups said: “Childhood obesity is a major threat to health both here in Scotland and across the world.
“It is clear that, for older children and adolescents, the marketing of processed foods is part of the problem. The University’s ISM research demonstrated this over a decade ago, when we conducted the first systematic review on food advertising and childhood obesity.
“Now WHO want to go to the root of the problem and examine what is happening in the first years of life. Is marketing taking a toll here - either directly because small children are picking up promotional messages themselves, or indirectly because of the campaigns that target their parents and carers? Margaret Chan’s Commission is a great opportunity to examine these issues in much greater detail”
The Commission will be co-chaired by Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, and Dr Sania Nishtar, founder of Pakistan’s health policy think tank, Heartfile. The Commission and its working groups will meet several times over the year and will be supported by WHO staff. A report is expected in early 2015.
Professor Hastings acted as a Special Advisor to the House of Commons Health Select Committee during its separate enquiries into the tobacco (2000), food (2004), pharmaceuticals (2005), and alcohol (2010); he has also been a Temporary Advisor to WHO on both communicable and noncommunicable disease and regularly advises the Scottish and UK Governments on public health and social marketing.
He has been a Cancer Research UK grant holder for over two decades and is a principal investigator with the International Tobacco Control Study, the UK Centre for Tobacco Control and Alcohol Studies and the Medical Research-funded alcohol policy interventions in Scotland and England (APISE) study; he is also a member of the Public Health Research Consortium. He headed the team that did the world’s first systematic review on the impact of food advertising on childhood obesity (updated twice for WHO).
In 2009, Professor Hastings was awarded the OBE for services to health care. In 2013, the University of Stirling won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for the ground-breaking social marketing research conducted by the Institute for Social Marketing.