IDLO Hosts First Expert Consultation on Overweight, Obesity, Diabetes and Law in Western Pacific Region

25 Apr 2014

A Rising Epidemic in the Western Pacific Region

The Western Pacific region stretches over a vast area, from China in the north and west, to New Zealand in the south, and French Polynesia in the east. Home to 1.8 million people, the region includes the world’s most rapidly emerging economies, as well as some of the world’s least developed countries. Over recent years, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in this region have become a serious public health threat. In particular, rates of overweight, obesity and diabetes have increased dramatically, in part due to changing diets and urbanization.

READ: WHO Meeting Report - July 2015     (download)

 

Here is a look at some of the facts:

  • There are over 100 million people living with diabetes in the Western Pacific region – 98% are in China.
  • Seven of the top 10 countries for diabetes prevalence are Pacific Island countries.
  • NCDs disproportionately impact young and middle-aged adults in their most productive years; over two in every five NCD deaths occur in individuals under the age of 60.
  • Obesity and overweight increase risk for NCDs, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, as well as certain forms of cancer.
  • Discrimination is a major concern for people with diabetes, both in access to health services, and in other areas of public life, such as employment.

The key causes of obesity are increased consumption of energy-dense foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and reduced physical activity. The use of legal tools and interventions – such as restrictions on the advertising or marketing of junk food to children, taxes on sweetened drinks, or bans on the use of trans fat in processed foods – all contribute to an environment in which the easy choice is the healthy choice. 

Bridging the Gap between Law and Public Health

In an effort to tackle the rising prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the Western Pacific region, the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and the University of Sydney co-hosted the Overweight, Obesity, Diabetes and Law Consultation in Manila from April 9-11. The consultation was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) with financial support from Australian Aid.

For the first time, lawyers joined public health experts and civil society representatives in a multidisciplinary dialogue about priorities for law reform and legal strategies for preventing overweight, obesity and diabetes. 

Public health law capacity is weak in many developing countries. Through its direct work with judicial and legal professionals, institutions, government agencies and NGOs, IDLO serves a unique role in bridging the gap between public health, law and development.

The Pathway toward Prevention, Detection and Treatment

Participants at the consultation discussed important next steps toward adopting legal solutions to combat the growing epidemic of overweight, obesity and diabetes in the Western Pacific region. These include national public health law capacity building and regional networking, including through regional organizations such as WHO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

“It is important that governments are equipped with the resources and knowledge to adopt and implement national legal frameworks to promote healthy diets and physical activity,” said David Patterson, Senior Legal Expert in Health at IDLO. “We work with governments to help build this capacity and provide the legal expertise, resources, tools and professional support to governments, multilateral partners, and civil society organizations.”

Patterson added, “In a parallel effort, networking is critical among nations in the Western Pacific region to ensure governments can share experiences and knowledge, as they will not necessarily have all the answers working alone.  Countries, such as Australia, which have achieved some success in tackling NCDs, can offer valuable advice to smaller countries pursuing such legal reforms.”

“Working with other development partners, we aim to provide individual countries with the technical guidance needed to develop and implement legal frameworks to promote healthy diets and physical activity based on the context and needs of that country.”

“Key to results, however, is an informed and engaged civil society sector. We need human rights groups, women’s organizations, child rights NGOs and faith-based associations to demand government action on public health. Civil society must support governments to make tough legislative choices, and monitor implementation.”

Find out more:

WHO media release

University of Sydney media release  

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