How to make healthy choices easier

‘Obesity: the role of the food environment’ was the topic of ahti Connect on February 15. Speakers were Coosje Dijkstra, researcher at VU University working at the Institute of Health Sciences, department Youth and Lifestyle, and Loek Leenen, project leader of ‘Amsterdamse Aanpak Gezond Gewicht’.

Obesity in the Netherlands

The number of people dealing with overweight and obesity in The Netherlands has increased significantly over the years (from 28% and 5% in 1981 to 40% and 11% in 2014). A similar trend is found among children.
Solely providing information has found not to be enough. In 2006, the Dutch health council already stated that information campaigns targeting healthy behavior should be accompanied by measures in the living environment.

Amsterdamse Aanpak Gezond Gewicht
In Amsterdam, 1 in 5 children is overweight, which is higher than anywhere else in the country. Loek Leenen explained more about the Amsterdam approach to prevent and tackle this problem. The program ‘Amsterdamse Aanpak Gezond Gewicht’ targets parents, schools and the environment of the city. The idea is to create an environment that makes is easier and safer to make the healthy choice, e.g. to cycle or walk to school, and is more appealing for children to play outside. To achieve this, Amsterdam collaborates with schools, sports clubs, communities and entrepreneurs.

The goal is for all children in Amsterdam to have a healthy weight in 2033. The first results are positive: overweight and obesity among children in Amsterdam have decreased over the past 5 years.

Current research: the supermarket
Coosje Dijkstra is working on ways to help people make healthier choices. ‘De Gezonde Coach’ project (‘The Healthy Coach’ project) was set up in collaboration with Albert Heijn and ahti. During school breaks, many teenagers (89% on a daily basis) rush to the supermarket to buy, mostly, unhealthy food. In a peer education workshop, young employees were trained to become ‘supermarket coaches’. They educated students in a 45-minute workshop.

In the following weeks, the coaches would approach them in the supermarket encouraging them to choose the healthy option. After the intervention, it was found that many students had the intention to follow the advice of the supermarket coach. However, intention alone is not enough and so right now they are monitoring the purchases of the students during the breaks to see if they change as well.

Join the next ahti Connect on Thursday March 15: ‘Cardiovascular Risk Management: Innovation in the 1st and 2nd line’.