There are many reasons why the prevalence of serious chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes has been rising in recent decades.1-4 Some of this increase is due to risk factors that are not preventable, such as genetics and the fact that humans are living longer. However, in many cases, obesity and serious chronic disease can be prevented.5

Understanding the root causes of obesity and its complications is key to reducing the burden of serious chronic diseases in our society, and this starts with acknowledging the profound influence environmental and social factors have on health.

Who we are, how we live today, the places we live in, and the food we eat all play their part in our health.6-8 Economic and social inequalities, low levels of physical activity and food systems that fail to provide healthy nutrition to all people equally means obesity prevalence is increasing fastest among vulnerable communities, with negative impacts on health.

Driving a sustainable business and living up to our values as a company compels us to look at issues holistically and proactively address the underlying drivers behind the rise in serious chronic disease. 

Keep reading and see how we work with chronic disease prevention.

Obesity and other serious chronic diseases pose a significant threat to global well-being, affecting millions of people and straining healthcare systems. These health challenges disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, revealing a stark inequality in living healthily. Building on more than ten years of experience with urban health promotion and disease prevention programming, we see that improving health equity can be a formidable defence against obesity and other chronic diseases.

We are taking determined and focused action to prevent chronic diseases before they start. Our twin approach is to create the conditions for better urban health for vulnerable communities and a renewed drive to prevent childhood overweight and obesity.

Cities for Better Health is a public-private partnership committed to driving action to prevent serious chronic diseases in urban settings. We are a global network helping to build impactful prevention partnerships and drive impactful action in more than 45 cities across the globe.  

We work with local communities to increase access to healthy places to make it easier for people to eat nutritious food, engage in physical activity and achieve well-being and good health.

Many urban food systems are failing to ensure healthy food is accessible to everyone. Improving access to fresh, nutritious and healthier food can become a powerful driving force towards preventing obesity, chronic heart disease and type 2 diabetes. We take action to ensure that healthy food is available, affordable and appealing for vulnerable communities. We partner with local authorities to make nutritious foods available in schools and other community settings. Empowering communities with knowledge about nutrition and providing access to affordable and appealing healthy food options are critical steps. 

Physical activity has significant health benefits for hearts, bodies and minds, and being physically active is a crucial lifestyle component that helps prevent diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. This is widely understood, yet globally, 1 in 4 adults do not meet recommended levels of physical activity, and more than 80% of the world's adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.9 We are taking action to ensure that urban activity and mobility are accessible and appealing to vulnerable populations and children. We work to increase access to physical activity through schools and communities with our local and global partners. 

Almost 1 in 5 children and adolescents are overweight or living with obesity. Childhood obesity sets the stage for the early onset of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart conditions, with risks escalating the more prolonged obesity lasts. Ending childhood obesity is pivotal to securing a healthier future and reversing the trend of chronic diseases to the benefit of society at large. We work in multi-stakeholder partnerships to pilot and scale innovative solutions to promote healthier lifestyles and well-being for children in urban communities.

Preventing chronic disease in cities starts with identifying and exploring novel solutions to these large health challenges. Novo Nordisk has driven a range of innovation challenges, and now, Cities for Better Health is continuing this legacy of innovation. This year, Cities for Better Health is launching the Healthy Cities Challenge.

The Healthy Cities Challenge is an open innovation challenge launched in partnership with C40. The aim is to identify and support promising initiatives that work to shape urban environments in a way that supports the health and well-being of local communities. These could be projects that create healthier food environments, urban planning that promotes physical activity and mental health, or other city-based initiatives that facilitate healthy living. For more information on how to apply, please visit Healthy Cities Challenge.

Learn about the 2022 Healthy Childhood Challenge and 2020 Healthy Food Challenge and be inspired by what we can achieve together.

Globally, around 40 million children under the age of five are overweight. This puts them at risk of developing early onset of type 2 diabetes, and is a strong predictor of adult obesity.

These children may also face challenges in thriving and reaching their full potential. Being overweight can contribute to stigmatisation, poor socialisation and emotional difficulties, and, in some cases reduced educational attainment.

Since 2019, Novo Nordisk and UNICEF have partnered to prevent childhood overweight and obesity across the world. In 2023, Novo Nordisk and UNICEF announced a three-year extension of the partnership.

The partnership goal is to contribute to the prevention of childhood overweight and obesity by building healthy environments that enable and empower children to eat well and be active. A key focus of the partnership is to advocate for systemic changes to shift the focus on childhood overweight and obesity away from individual behaviour and towards enabling environments and society.

Visit our partnership page to learn more

Roth GA, Mensah GA, Johnson CO, et al. Global Burden of Cardiovascular Diseases and Risk Factors, 1990-2019: Update From the GBD 2019 Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. Dec 22 2020;76(25):2982-3021. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.11.010

World Health Organization Obesity and overweight. Accessed March, 2024.

Lovic D, Piperidou A, Zografou I, Grassos H, Pittaras A, Manolis A. The growing epidemic of diabetes mellitus. Current vascular pharmacology. 2020;18(2):104-109. 

(IDF) IDF. IDF Diabetes Atlas 10th ed. 2021. Accessed March 2022. 

De Lorenzo A, Romano L, Di Renzo L, Di Lorenzo N, Cenname G, Gualtieri P. Obesity: A preventable, treatable, but relapsing disease. Nutrition. 2020;71:110615. 

Lipek T, Igel U, Gausche R, Kiess W, Grande G. Obesogenic environments: environmental approaches to obesity prevention. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. May 2015;28(5-6):485-95. doi:10.1515/jpem-2015-0127

Sassi F. Obesity and the economics of prevention. Books. 2010;

Plantinga AJ, Bernell S. The association between urban sprawl and obesity: is it a two‐way street? Journal of regional science. 2007;47(5):857-879. 

Organization. WH. Physical Activity. Accessed March, 2024.