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HEC Paris Joins Europe’s Largest Project to Tackle Childhood Obesity

HEC Paris today announced it will join a project involving 16 nations and 31 research, advocacy and governmental organizations, geared to reverse the current wave of childhood obesity sweeping through much of Europe. The business school’s researchers are to contribute to the behavioral component of the €10 million project.

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The STOP project (Science and Technology in childhood Obesity Policy) is this year’s second major EU-funded initiative launched as part of the Horizon 2020 research program for Sustainable Food Security. It is to be coordinated by Imperial College Business School in London. STOP is being launched because statistics show that over one in three adults will be obese in certain European countries by 2025. Currently, over 10% of children aged between 5 and 19 in the UK and central-eastern Europe are obese, and the figure reaches 33% of Greek, Maltese and Italian children of that age. “Childhood obesity is a critical problem in Europe and globally,” says Tina Lowrey, HEC Professor of Marketing, who is heading the HEC contribution to the project. “This STOP project is an excellent opportunity for our school to participate in a comprehensive and well-designed consortium of researchers engaging in studies designed to understand the antecedents, consequences, and potential interventions that might help tackle this problem.”

Lowrey is joined by Marketing Professor L.J. Shrum and Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Law & Risk Regulation. They will be studying implementation of interventions designed to improve young children’s dietary decision-making.  Lowrey adds: “We are honored to be a part of this project, and look forward to translating our theoretical knowledge into action.”

A Multi-dimensional Approach

The project aims to improve Europe’s understanding of how the environment in which we live shapes children’s behaviors and parents’ choices, starting from before birth. It will investigate early signs of biological changes which eventually lead to obesity due to those behaviors. 17 cohorts of children throughout Europe are to be selected.

Furthermore, an experimental study will be undertaken in Sweden, Spain and Romania to test whether digital technologies can help very young obese children and their families to achieve sustainable improvements in body weight, especially for children from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background. As a first step, between now and May 2022 the 31-strong consortium will seek to identify and test the best approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity, focusing on children under the age of 12.

Seeking Effective Policy to End Obesity

The STOP initiative also seeks to put pressure on the food industry and other commercial players, holding them accountable for what children consume. In parallel, the STOP initiative will encourage the food industry to produce innovative solutions to make children’s consumption healthier through a competition that will lead to the award of funds for bringing the most promising innovations to the market. On the political front, the project will assess the scope for European governments to use levers such as taxes, nutrition labels and marketing restrictions on foods and beverages in tackling childhood obesity.

The project leader is Professor Franco Sassi, Director of the Centre for Health Economics & Policy Innovation at Imperial College Business School.  As a senior health economist, he has developed the OECD’s Public Health Program. “This is a significant investment by the European Union to find the most successful and effective approaches to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity,” he claims. “It is also helping children already suffering the disease to get the best support.”

According to WHO figures, the total percentage of all children obese or overweight in the European region has risen from 21% to 35% in the past two decades.