Together before it is too late - Summit of the spouses of European Leaders, Zagreb, Croatia - may 2023
Thank you, for the special pleasure of this invitation and the privilege of participating in this event among distinguished gentlemen and ladies and surely concerned mothers and fathers to discuss about a sensitive topic.
Obesity is a concern which, if I am not wrong, has been on focus of the public and institutional attention for almost a quarter of a century, but nonetheless continues to be a threat to the life and health of our societies.
A few days ago, I went to do some shopping at the supermarket with my 9-year-old son. With time, I have realized that he not only never refuses my invitation to go to the supermarket, but he lives it as a joyful experience as he gets close to all tempting things from which I try to protect him. Being together with me in front of the attractive packaging of forbidden taste, he can try to take from the shelves products that are never part of my shopping list. My position in this battle for bakery products and sugars has been saved from utter defeat by an early compromise which I stick heroically to. He can only get one item of his choice and as you can imagine, after giving in to such non-negotiable rule, he never reaches out beyond calorie bombs. Then, I buy what he picks seeing it also as an opportunity to continue peacefully my conversation on what is harmful until we get back home.
“Do you think what you are asking me to buy is healthy?” I asked him this time.
“No!”, he quipped.
“But you learn at school how to eat healthy – I said – and we talk together about what is and is not healthy for you. … Can you tell me why, regardless of that all, you still choose the wrong things?”
“It is simple, mum, - he answered, “because it is tasty and I cannot resist! But even adults – he continued - cannot resist harmful things, otherwise, supermarkets would not sell cigarettes, would they?!”.
Although we know today much more than we ever knew throughout history on the sources of harm to our health, we keep falling in the trap of the taste of unhealthy food. And the battle to prevent our children, in particular, from falling prey to it, to teach them understand it, seems increasingly hopeless as we face such a consumerist wave that has flooded into our life even from the virtual windows, let alone from the doors of the supermarkets. Indeed, we are their first window of example and the first door to knowledge, but we become smaller and smaller compared to the numerous windows and doors on offer at this time, with the world becoming unstoppably smaller while a global village is increasingly taking form. Even the community and the state itself look smaller while facing the daily blurring of the ethical, moral, institutional and state boundaries.
In Albania, 25% of the children are reported to be currently overweight, equal to the WHO average, but the figure is expected to rise at 37% in 2037. That means that each of the children falling under this category today are at risk of being part of the contingent of people affected by diabetes, suffering from high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases, in addition to being psychologically frail and vulnerable. Albania has taken important steps to address child obesity, including the monitoring of nutritional practices for pregnant women up to when the child reaches five years of age, the promotion of the “Bebbo” platform app, intended to educate parents on the upbringing and healthy nutrition of the children from 0 to 6 years of age. Since 2012, we are a party to the European Childhood Obesity Initiative for children aged 6-9 years, a Health Behavior programme takes place in schools and covers children aged 11-15 years, and schools themselves offer curricular activities and trainings on healthy eating.
Alas, all of the above is not sufficient, if we fail to massively restore the relationship with physical activity and nature, not only at the level of a country, but across the entire European community, at least. Physical education activity for children aged 6-15 years has increased from 90 to 145 minutes a week and from 2018, there has been a significant increase in sports facilities that are accessible to the surrounding communities.
Is that enough? Of course not. Not at all. Even more so when we face a growing spectrum of harm under a parenting agenda that is becoming more burdensome, especially while facing the weight of the virtual world magma, coupled with the stress that the everyday life imposes on us.
Obesity is not the only danger, not even one of the few. The generation of the children we raise today is one of great opportunities, as well as major risks, be them known or new.
This is the first generation that from day one of their life is in contact with videos, pictures, Instagram, Facebook, Tick-tock and the like, with the industry being no longer the only advertiser on the endless communication windows and man being not simply the consumer, but the product, as well.
In the meantime, the Artificial Intelligence that is growing like a baby in the womb, away from our sight, will likely be a challenge of an unimaginable magnitude even to its creators. Humanity has not yet invented a recipe to save themselves from the tasty trap of harmful, but in its absence we cannot let the new traps of modern times to swallow our children up into the darkness of a hell that turns life into a challenge that is no longer controlled by the individual, the family, community, country, the entire humanity.
To become together in the fight against the Childhood Obesity, is a contributing invitation for any other battle with the several traps of the modern times we are living. The Network on the Prevention of Childhood Obesity launched today in Zagreb gives all of us a clear choice: To go across the boundaries, to come together and do what an Albanian saint, Mother Teresa, advised: Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle!