interview

Every body needs everybody: World Obesity Day 2021

world obesity day 2021 many bodies dancing and having fun

Today, 4th of March is World Obesity Day. We mark it to raise attention across the globe and inspire action to "build happier, healthier and longer lives for everybody". Obesity is quite a complex disease, we need to address its root causes and create healthier environments where everyone can thrive. Sandra Caldeira has been working on this area for more than 10 years.In this interview (conducted by Ricardo Passos Sousa) she talks about her work and the passion and commitment she shares with her colleagues to continue working to curb obesity and change the way it is addressed across society.

Ricardo Passos Sousa (RPS): Today is World Obesity Day and I know that you work on this particular topic. Do you want to tell us about it?

Sandra Caldeira (SC): Oh yes … I do want to tell you about it because it is a topic that I am truly passionate about. Obesity is an area where I see a lot of potential for improvement and making a difference. And where making a difference can mean so much. I think mostly about childhood obesity because that is where my heart goes but of course, the overarching goal is to curb and bring down obesity levels in general.

RPS: What do you have in mind, when you say making a difference can mean so much?

SC: Right! I have two aspects in mind… One is the importance to the individual that has obesity and the other is the importance of curbing obesity for the benefit of society and our healthcare systems.

The first one first; can you imagine for a moment what it means to be a child with obesity? It means for example, to become more tired than friends do when running or playing. It often means to be bullied, to have low self-esteem, to perform worse at school. Projecting the obesity into the future, it also means possible earlier onset of other diseases like type 2 diabetes, increased risk of some cancers, of depression as well as orthopedic problems. It can mean increased severity of COVID-19 and premature death as well. It means to be or to feel discriminated against, even passively – public transport, theatres, plane seats are not sized for people with obesity, not to find the clothes I want to wear in my size. If you are an adult with obesity, discrimination at the work place can be a reality.

For the second aspect, just think that, in the EU, more than half a million deaths can be attributed to a higher than ideal body mass index each year. This is a rather high number and EU member states spend almost 7 percent of their budgets on treating health conditions related to it; costs related to obesity can be as high as 70 billion EUR in the EU per year.

RPS: Do you have any data about the situation in Europe and in Portugal?

SC: Yes we do – and we actually just published a summary of all these facts and figures today. If you want to know more, you can read about it in our Knowledge Gateway .

I’ll just give you the data for children and adolescents in the EU. Pre-obesity (overweight) and obesity rates can be as high as 39% among children and adolescents but the variation between countries is considerable; the lowest rates seen are around 13-15 % among Irish, Danish and Dutch boys. The differences we see at EU level are also present at national and regional level. Take our country, Portugal, as an example. The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in Portugal varies across regions between approximately 21 % and 34 % (2016 data, six- to eight-years-old children). Zooming in, the same variation and differences exists within municipalities. Look at the data from Gaia, where the municipality runs an exemplary survey among all children in public pre- and primary school with body measurements for every child. You see the same differences and you can learn from this data - matched to socio-economic and urban infrastructure data, one can identify possible underlying reasons for the differences in body weight and levers to address them.

Prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in Portugal.
Prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in Portugal (left) and in different areas of Gaia (right). The PT map is based on measured data, extracted from the COSI Portugal study (2016) for children between 6 and 8 years old. The Gaia map is based on measurements made by the Gaia municipality in all children (4-12 y old) attending public school (n=11395, in 2014/15). Adapted from Caldeira et al, 2018.

 

RPS: Do you have a concrete example of the type of work you do that can help us understanding how can we curb obesity?

SC: Actions to curb obesity can be taken many levels. Certainly, eating and drinking habits, physical inactivity, and sedentary behaviour are some of the most direct factors associated with this disease. But obesity is the result of a complex interaction of ‘genetic susceptibility, environmental as well as behavioural factors’.  The reasons can differ from individual to individual. Preventing the onset of obesity is much less in the hands of people (in children that is even more obvious!) than commonly thought. To me and to many others in the field, the key  lies elsewhere – it lies with addressing socio-economic factors and a number of other factors that shape the environments our children and we live in. I’m talking about urban planning, possibilities for active commuting (walking, cycling), exposure to marketing of foods high in fat, sugars, and salt, time to sleep and if you’re talking of children also school food policies, parents’ occupations and their free time for outdoor activities and many others. All these, together, frame the opportunities for health that children and adults alike have access to.

That is the area I like to work on and where I see so much potential; what governments and the EU can do to shape these environments and curb obesity.

RPS: And the examples Sandra!?

SC: Here they go: I can give you 3 examples of what we (and countries) are doing.

  • We believe schools are a great place to promote health, they need to be healthy! We need to push for healthy schools, there is evidence that it will also improve education. We have been working on the food environment and the food offer in schools. We want schools – and other public institutions like hospitals, canteens, our work places in general - to use their purchasing power and procure foods with important health criteria.
  • Making the healthier option the easier option. We are helping governments benchmarking and keeping track of the food offer. Countries are using different tools to try to reduce sugars content in food products for example, from negotiating with food business operators, to taxing those foods and beverages that are particularly high in sugars or fat or salt. As well as that, we are exploring the possibility of improving food labels so the nutrition value of each food or drink is clearer at a glance.
  • Limit marketing and advertising to children especially of foods high in fat, sugars or salt but also limit alcoholic beverages advertising thinking of adolescents and young adults

These are just some examples as so much more can be done. For example, at local level to ensure cities and neighbourhoods are child friendly, encourage walking or physical activity.

RPS: What do you expect that 2021 will bring you and your work in this area?

SC: There is an amazing team effort behind all the work we are doing in this area; within the health promotion team but also with the member states and other colleagues. That work in all three areas I mentioned continues to develop and mature. There is also renewed impetus as the European Commission just launched the farm to fork strategy and the Europe’s beating cancer plan and these address many of the most insidious obesity risk factors. We are thus full of energy and enthusiasm to keep going at it and seeing the tide turning on this other pandemic!

For more on our work in this are check our EU science Hub headline today! And if you're keen to raise awareness across the board as well check the worldobesityday.org page as well! 

Sandra Caldeira is Deputy Head of Unit Health in Society and Ricardo Passos Sousa is Deputy Head of Safety and Security Unit, Head of Security Service and Local Security Officer at the Joint Research Centre, European Commission.

* This website and the “Portuguese Semester” celebrations are organised by a group of volunteers at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to promote and disseminate Portuguese culture, on the occasion of the 2021 Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU).

This is part of a tradition at the JRC, initiated back in 1992 with the first series of activities to mark the EU Council Portuguese Presidency at the time. Since then, cultural semesters have been organised, as a way to celebrate the culture and traditions of the EU member state that holds the rotating presidency of the Council and bring them closer to the JRC and local communities. *

On World Cancer Day we work and hope for healthier days

together all our actions matter

Today, 4th of February is World Cancer Day. We mark it to raise attention across the globe and inspire action for a cancer-free future. It is a day that means much to many - all? - of us. Cancer has touched nearly everyone's lives. Raquel Carvalho knows it too well, because her job is to quantify and monitor cancer burden across Europe.

In this interview (conducted by Sandra Caldeira), Raquel shares her work with us, tells us about the cancer burden in the EU and in Portugal and shares her commitment to continue working to tackle this devastating disease.

 

Sandra Caldeira (SC): Hello Raquel! I know you are taking part in the awareness raising campaign #IAmAndIWill and talking about your work with the European Cancer Information System (ECIS). Do you want to tell us about it?

Raquel Carvalho (RC): I have the pleasure of working for the development of the European Cancer Information System (ECIS). ECIS is the reference point for reliable and comparable indicators on cancer burden in Europe, and these are essential to the development of effective, evidence-based policies and optimal use of resources for tackling the European cancer burden.

We disseminate cancer burden indicators through the ECIS web application that we developed at the JRC. We work together with the European Network of Cancer Registries (ENCR), with a focus on standardisation and harmonisation of cancer registries data to ensure comparability across regions in the EU and allow the exploration of geographical patterns and temporal trends in cancer burden indicators.

SC: That is so interesting! And important... as the saying goes "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it".

How did you end up doing this?

RC: My educational background is in Biochemistry (University of Coimbra, Portugal and University of Bergen, Norway). I have a great interest in cancer risk factors, which started when I joined the JRC 12 years ago, to work in risk assessment of environmental pollutants, including chemical carcinogens.

When I moved to the Health in Society Unit to work on the Cancer Information system, I started thinking about how we could link the data-rich environmental monitoring databases existing in Europe with cancer data.

SC: And what does ECIS tell us Raquel, about the situation in Europe and in Portugal?

RC: When we consider all cancer sites (except non-melanoma skin cancer), Portugal has lower incidence rate than the EU-27 average. This is particularly significant in women, where the cancer incidence rate is the second lowest of all EU-27 countries. For mortality, women also continue to have one of the lowest rates in the EU, but for men it is not so. Men in PT have higher cancer mortality rates than the EU average.

Cancer incidence and mortality in the EU by country by sex
Estimated cancer incidence and mortality in the EU by country by sex. Source: data from ECIS (https://ecis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/)

 

RC: If you look at different cancer sites, there are also some differences between Portugal and the EU-27. Cancers of the colorectum, stomach and thyroid are more frequent in PT than in the EU as whole, while breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma of the skin are less frequent in PT.

Comparison of estimated incidence by cancer site, both sexes
Source: data from ECIS (https://ecis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/)

 

SC: Do you have a concrete example showing how risk factors do affect cancer burden?

RC: It is estimated that more than 40% of all cancers in the EU could be prevented by avoiding specific risk factors. One of the most studied risk factors is cigarette smoking and it is responsible for the majority of lung cancers in the EU.

Something very interesting in Portugal is the fact that even though the national incidence rate of lung cancer is lower that the EU-27 average, this is not homogeneous in different regions of Portugal. For instance, the Central region has very low incidence rate of lung cancer while the Azores archipelago has more than 3 times that rate.

Incidence of lung cancer in PT regions
Source: data from ECIS (https://ecis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/)

 

RC: This can be explained, at least partially, by a higher smoking prevalence in the Azores. Having access to this type of information can help focus preventive measures on the populations who will benefit the most.

But smoking is not the only risk factor - the European Code against Cancer lists many others and gives 12 simple recommendations to reduce cancer risk.

Distribution of daily smokers in PT by regions
Source: Eurostat, Proportion of daily smokers for population aged > 15 years (2014)

 

SC: What will 2021 bring you and your work?

RC: The ECIS team is preparing a new data call to update ECIS with the most recent statistics. Our aim is to improve the timeliness of the computed indicators, the data coverage, the geographical detail and have more and better data on cancer stage and treatment. We want to invest in a more efficient communication of cancer information to the public  by making ECIS even more user-friendly.

I am also committed to facilitate a greater use of cancer data and the interoperability between the ECIS database and different environmental monitoring databases to investigate potential linkages between human exposure to environmental risk factors and cancer incidence.

Environmental risk factors are a small proportion overall, but they are often out of the control of the individual; that is why it is so important to monitor the situation across the EU so that higher- risk situations can be identified and tackled.

SC: Thank you so much for this interview Raquel! To you and the ECIS team, please keep measuring it - all our actions matter and we are so thankful for the great work you are doing!

 

For more on Raquel and JRC's work on Cancer check our headline today  JRC scientists on #worldcancerday

Communicating science: Illustrating how discoveries are made with animated stories

Add to Calendar 2021-02-24 12:30:00 2021-02-24 13:30:00 Communicating science: Illustrating how discoveries are made with animated stories “The important thing is not to stop questioning–.” (Albert Einstein) Talking about the power of science communication (take 1)   Even though science belongs to everyone, the scientific language often places it well beyond our reach. In this session, a group of science communicators from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, present a way to make it more attainable: an animated collection of discoveries in the making. Join us in this conversation with Catarina Ramos, science communicator, Liad Hollender, science writer, and Diogo Matias, illustrator and animator, about the creative process behind their project. About the Project: A major challenge in science communication is moving beyond the “one sentence” headline and into the nitty-gritty of scientific work. The Science Collection “Inside the Unknown” attempts to overcome this challenge by combining a storytelling approach with illustrated animations that accompany the text.  The project explores the work of scientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, who pursue fundamental and translational research in neuroscience, physiology and cancer. Inside the Unknown currently has five pieces, available in Portuguese and English. About the Champalimaud Foundation: The Champalimaud Foundation is a worldwide leader in scientific and technological innovation in Biomedical science, and is based in Lisbon, Portugal. It is at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, that the Foundation develops its activity in the areas of neuroscience and cancer. This is done through both research programmes and the provision of clinical services of excellence. It also has an outreach programme to fight blindness. To pursue its objectives in achieving significant scientific advances, the Champalimaud Foundation adopts a translational methodology, which establishes a direct link and interdependency between basic research and clinical activity. Online PT-Semester 2021 paulorosa.par@gmail.com Europe/Rome public
Location
Online
science collection

“The important thing is not to stop questioning–.” (Albert Einstein)

Talking about the power of science communication (take 1)

 

Even though science belongs to everyone, the scientific language often places it well beyond our reach. In this session, a group of science communicators from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, present a way to make it more attainable: an animated collection of discoveries in the making. Join us in this conversation with Catarina Ramos, science communicator, Liad Hollender, science writer, and Diogo Matias, illustrator and animator, about the creative process behind their project.

About the Project:

A major challenge in science communication is moving beyond the “one sentence” headline and into the nitty-gritty of scientific work. The Science Collection “Inside the Unknown” attempts to overcome this challenge by combining a storytelling approach with illustrated animations that accompany the text. 

The project explores the work of scientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, who pursue fundamental and translational research in neuroscience, physiology and cancer.

Inside the Unknown currently has five pieces, available in Portuguese and English.

About the Champalimaud Foundation:

The Champalimaud Foundation is a worldwide leader in scientific and technological innovation in Biomedical science, and is based in Lisbon, Portugal.
It is at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon, that the Foundation develops its activity in the areas of neuroscience and cancer. This is done through both research programmes and the provision of clinical services of excellence. It also has an outreach programme to fight blindness. To pursue its objectives in achieving significant scientific advances, the Champalimaud Foundation adopts a translational methodology, which establishes a direct link and interdependency between basic research and clinical activity.