Novo Nordisk joins UNICEF in global and local efforts to end childhood obesity

Novo Nordisk has joined UNICEF in a new three-year collaborative initiative to end childhood obesity. The partners plan to do global research to share lessons and effective strategies to fight the disease, but they're also initiating on-the-ground efforts in Latin American and Caribbean countries with high prevalence.

For instance, in Mexico, the two are piloting a breastfeeding program to encourage new mothers to adopt the practice, said Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, president and CEO of Novo Nordisk, in an interview with FiercePharma. Breastfeeding has been shown to have positive health benefits for children, including making it less likely that they’ll end up living with obesity.

Novo Nordisk’s interest is tied to its research and treatments focused on Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to childhood obesity. Studies show childhood obesity is a strong risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes.

“Our whole purpose is to drive change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic diseases. That’s what we do,” Jørgensen said. “Driving change is acknowledging in part that it takes much more than medicine to solve the burden of diabetes and other serious chronic diseases like obesity.”

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Experts see the increasing prevalence of diabetes as unsustainable from a healthcare system perspective as well as for drugmakers. Novo Nordisk also sees prevention as a responsibility and an obligation to society as a health partner.

“We don’t want to just develop and sell medicines. We also want to be a partner for society that’s actually helping society to prevent diseases,” Jørgensen said.

“There are so many people we’re talking about here that there is still a big business opportunity for a company like ours. But for society, we have to make sure that the largest number of cases that can be prevented are prevented or the whole system collapses," he added. "For me, it’s part of being a sustainable business that we actually help society to prevent what’s preventable and thereby provide the room to give good care for those who actually need medical intervention."

UNICEF’s own research in the "State of the World’s Children" annual report found childhood obesity and children being overweight is on the rise almost everywhere globally. More than 40 million children under the age of five are overweight, while the number of children ages five to19 who are overweight has doubled in the past 15 years.

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In the U.S., the percentage of children with obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 1 in 5 school children aged 6 to 19 are living with obesity. That’s why reaching children is key in efforts to fight and end obesity and in turn mitigate Type 2 diabetes, Jørgensen said. The partnership with UNICEF is important in part because of the organization's reach and knowledge in working with worldwide governments at a policy level.