EPODE and political leadership - An interview of Dr Gérard Bapt, Member of the French Parliament and Mayor of St Jean, EPODE pilot town
An interview of Dr Gérard Bapt, Member of the French Parliament and Mayor of St Jean, EPODE pilot town since 2004, highlights the key role of political representative in EPODE framework.
Dr. Gérard Bapt is a well-known French politician, doctor and cardiologist. Elected as a MP in 2002, and re-elected in 2007, he is the mayor of Saint Jean, in the Midi Pyrénées region of France, one of the ten EPODE pilot towns in France.
EEN Newsletter: Why and how did you get involved in the EPODE programme in 2004?
Dr. Bapt: Obesity has become a major public health problem, also now in France. For years, France thought it had been spared this scourge, which we thought was reserved only for Anglo-Saxon nations. Sadly, the numbers began to tell a different story, and we could see that obesity had been steadily increasing in our country too. According to INSEE, the prevalence of obesity was 5.5% in 1992, 10% in 2003 and has now reached 15% by 2009. This trend dates from the early 90s, because the prevalence of obesity was virtually unchanged between 1981 and 1992.
It is important to note that the increase in the average hides several key differences. We can see for example that the prevalence of obesity varies according to geographical criteria, with a rate of 14% in the North against "only" 8% in the Ile de France region (Paris and surrounding area). Obesity also varies depending on the socio-professional category, with a prevalence rate of 16% for farmers, 12% for workers against only 6% for managers (INSEE, 2003).
However, this statistical data is only valid for the general population, and does not provide any information on the situation of children, which has become very worrying. According to a survey in 1999, conducted over a three year, by a network of doctors and nurses, together with the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity and the Ministry of Education, 14% of children six years and old were overweight, with 4% of them obese.
These various data showed that obesity, particularly childhood obesity, was a major challenge for health authorities - and at Saint Jean we decided to do something about it.
EEN Newsletter: Can you tell us more about the EPODE project in Saint Jean?
Dr. Bapt: Saint Jean is one of the pilot towns in the EPODE project. We have been active since 2004, alongside nine other cities in France, in combating childhood obesity using the EPODE programme (Together Let's Prevent Childhood Obesity).
The dieticians are closely involved in the implementation of EPODE in the town of St Jean and are, among others, associated in the creation of the new school meals offered in the schools. In addition of the new school meals, we have also taken the some initiative to encourage families to participate, for example at a 'Family Sports day' held 4 times/year, and by convening Culinary workshops' in schools and day care centers. On top of these efforts, town's shops and business are getting involved organising ad hoc activities at the market place in order to increase awareness on the need to consume seasonal products, etc). We have also implemented organised conferences, debates, targeting medical doctors , pharmacists to promote balanced diets and health prevention in general.
The EPODE programme is a multifaceted tool for municipalities to intervene on a major public health issue by reaching out and communicating with each stakeholder in the chain (parents, children, teachers, businessmen, medical professionals) and enabling the implementation of innovative initiatives that facilitate people engagement for the common good.
At Saint Jean, the prevalence of obesity among children has decreased from 19.15% to 6.42% in five years. This reduction of almost 67% illustrates the effectiveness of initiatives taken under the auspices of EPODE.
EEN Newsletter: How important is your role in making EPODE a reality?
Dr. Bapt: Elected representatives in general, and the mayor in particular, are responsible for directing and championing such Programme as EPODE. in order also to create synergy between exiting initiatives. Note however, that the involvement of stakeholders is not limited just to municipal services, but extends through to the private sector, and of course the general public themselves. The politician represents the key link between the different actors involved and to monitor the ongoing implementation. He is at the very heart of the programme, his role being to lead, encourage and maintain momentum for the initiative throughout.
EEN Newsletter: Can you be more precise about the added value of the EPODE programme?
Dr. Bapt: One clear advantage of the EPODE programme lies in its ability to address the problem of childhood obesity in its entirety, that is to say, above and beyond social differences. Statistics show that both for adults and children, the level of social class is a significant factor when it comes to obesity. The Programme initiatives targeting the whole population of the town may also have a direct effect on the most disadvantaged groups of the population. If the government doesn't understand the issue, and realise that it is essential to have a comprehensive public response to obesity, then the social inequalities and resulting increase in obesity are bound to continue, or worse increase further.
EPODE has the merit to be both local and global. At local level because it provides to participating municipalities a "toolbox" f to act effectively and efficiently against childhood obesity promoting concrete actions, involving the whole community (doctors, sports associations, shops, traders, etc). At global level because it is coordinated at both the national and European level, and offers a follow up and evaluation of results, as well as a certain homogeneity in the objectives and means.
EEN Newsletter: Thank you very much.