“We need to accelerate the transition to a healthier Netherlands,” says Antje Diertens, former D66 MP and the woman behind the Healthy Lifestyle initiative memorandum. “The number of overweight and obese people is continuing to rise, with all the consequences this entails. It is time to agree on shared health goals. In fact, this is the only way we can efficiently achieve the outcomes we desire.” On 23 November, Diertens will be bringing this message to the conference ‘Accelerating cooperation to stop overweight and obesity’, an initiative of the Institute 4 Preventive Health.
“From GPs to government policymakers, professionals in all walks of life are committed to promoting health. Unfortunately, the healthcare landscape too often involves fragmentary projects that end as soon as their grants run out. This cannot lead to a lasting solution to an important health problem. There is also insufficient communication between the stakeholders: between the various ministries, between the healthcare institutions, between government projects and private initiatives, and so on. If all parties have the same goal to pursue (“How healthy do we want to be?”) and a clear roadmap to follow, we will be much better able to steer the sector in the right direction and keep track of the results,” says Diertens.
“And it can be done,” she continues confidently. “Just look at the climate policy, where we have set clear targets for our maximum CO2 emissions.” Diertens has already suggested suitable health goals in her Healthy Lifestyle initiative memorandum. She has put forward 29 ‘points for decision’, some of which are already under consideration, such as lowering the VAT on fruit and vegetables.
Diertens thinks the Municipal Health Service (GGD) is the appropriate authority to monitor the health goals and coordinate their implementation, because it is the body that implements healthcare at the municipal level. “Children all pass through the Municipal Health Service, and all relevant organisations come together there at the local level, allowing the process to be guided from the bottom up.”
Besides shared health goals, Diertens also advocates more multidisciplinary collaboration, because a healthy lifestyle is facilitated at several levels. “Only working on one of these levels will not have the desired effect. A healthy lifestyle requires a healthy diet, exercise and reducing stress, but there also has to be a healthy living environment. For example, what kind of food is sold locally and at what price? Are there enough green spaces to walk in? How is the air quality?”
As a social liberal, Diertens believes public and private parties should work together more to promote a healthier lifestyle. “For example, supermarkets can sell more healthy foods, and the government can encourage and monitor this. In Amsterdam, the municipality has already taken steps in this direction by reducing the number of fast-food restaurants on one of the city’s squares and making room for entrepreneurs with healthy products to set up shop there. Now people can choose for themselves. In its turn, the municipality needs the help of the national government to embed such changes in law.”
From a conference to a project
“That multidisciplinary approach is exactly what the ‘Accelerating cooperation to stop obesity’ conference is all about,” Diertens continues. “Professionals from all disciplines that are in some way related to health come together here to work on solutions, which is quite unique. Obviously, there are scientists – the Institute 4 Preventive Health is a research institute – but policymakers, healthcare professionals, IT professionals and sports organisations are also present. Not to mention the professionals who focus on mental well-being, such as psychologists. This is very important, because problems withoverweight often have a psychological dimension as well. This needs to be taken into account, instead of stigmatising people with weight problems, which does not help.”
“During this conference, all the attending professionals will discuss how to help make the Netherlands healthier, and particularly how to prevent overweight and obesity,” says Diertens. “But they will do more than just talk about it; they will also work out concrete project proposals and form partnerships to carry them out. I wholeheartedly support this approach, and I invite everyone to get involved, engage with each other and look beyond the boundaries of their own specialisations. After all, we all want to stay healthy, even as we grow older. That’s what we do it for.”
Interested in the conference ‘Accelerating cooperation to stop overweight and obesity’? Read the full program here.