Childhood obesity rates are rising in many parts of the world – but in Amsterdam they are falling. The city’s healthy-weight programme has seen a 12% drop in overweight and obese children.
“Go!” shouts the instructor. Tyrell van der Wees throws himself forward to do sit-ups, then jumps up and runs to the end of the gym and back again. He is breathing fast, his heart pumping.
The nine-year-old is smiling, working hard and having fun. He is also part of Amsterdam’s efforts to improve the health of its children.
At the back of the gym Tyrell’s mother, Janice, is sitting with other parents watching the fitness class.
“He’s really happy. He is doing something to improve his health. He knows the consequences and he is trying to do something about it,” she says.
A year ago Tyrell’s school told Janice he was overweight. Children in Amsterdam are now regularly weighed and tested for agility and balance.
Tyrell was referred to a child health nurse, Kristel de Lijster.
She offered them a package of help including dietary advice, joining a gym class and a volunteer to make home visits – all for free.
Between 2012 and 2015 the percentage of children who were overweight fell from 21% to 18.5%, resulting in a 12% drop in the total number of overweight children.
The city authorities are cautious about the findings, but the trend is encouraging.
To keep its healthy message consistent, the city has banned junk food companies from advertising on the subway or sponsoring sporting events. It is also working with shops and supermarkets to promote fresh food.
All political parties back the programme, and this consensus helps the programme take a long-term approach towards healthier lifestyles.