Human Rights, Childhood Obesity and Health Inequalities

Photo courtesy (Brett Jordan)

Dr Nikhil Gokani, Lecturer in Law, University of Essex, has co-authored a new book chapter on human rights, childhood obesity and health inequalities with Dr Marine Friant-Perrot.

The prevalence of childhood obesity, and its rapid increase, is not distributed equally across populations. Some groups of children are more likely to live with obesity than others, with childhood obesity being strongly associated with belonging to socioeconomic groups consuming more energy-dense diets. These health inequalities are largely systematic, and are mostly the result of the social, political and economic environment in which children live and play.

Despite the creation of a health-promoting environment for all children being recognised by the international community as a matter of societal responsibility, inequalities in childhood obesity are growing. Within legal frameworks, social, cultural and economic rights are well placed to help reduce the prevalence of obesity. These human rights are inspired by the principle of solidarity and, as they are conceived as instruments of social transformation, they aim to provide corrective measures to economic liberalisation. As their essence is to protect everyone equally, the reduction of health inequalities in childhood obesity can be articulated within this human rights discourse.

This book chapter argues that, through helping to restore a real capacity for choice in food consumption, and thereby supporting healthier diets for every child, the right to non-discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic status and the principle of equality can be thought of as a foundation for realising social rights, in particular the right to health and the right to food. Moreover, it explores the implications of a human rights approach grounded in the right to non-discrimination for reducing health inequalities in childhood obesity prevention strategies. It calls for State implementation of restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food to children as an evidence-based method to reduce inequalities and help better fulfil children’s right to non-discrimination and protect them from unnecessary commercial influences.

This book chapter was co-written with Marine Friant-Perrot (University of Nantes) and published in Amandine Garde, Joshua Curtis and Olivier De Schutter (editors), Ending Childhood Obesity: A Challenge at the Crossroads of International Economic and Human Rights Law (Elgar, December 2020).

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