Down with the slum
Many know Jaap Seidell as the country’s foremost obesity specialist. But that’s only part of the story. ‘For me it’s all about the emancipation of vulnerable groups.’ He intends to use his recent appointment as a University Professor to achieve that goal.
Unfortunate but true: walk just a kilometre from the posh environs of the Amsterdam Zuid district and you’ll find yourself in a neighbourhood where people’s health deteriorates fifteen years earlier than where your stroll began. In the Nieuw-West district people look less healthy and they are heavier.
Health scientist Jaap Seidell wants to do something about this huge, unjustifiable difference. “Obesity means more than just an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. It is a symptom that indicates something is not right in society. It’s an easily measured symptom, too, because it jumps right out at you.”
After 35 years of research into overweight and its more severe manifestation, obesity, the nutrition expert and epidemiologist is convinced that conditions can be created that allow people to grow up healthy and to complete an education that allows them to get ahead in life. “It seems to me that the enormous difference in healthy life expectancy will then largely dissipate. We can then improve educational performance and health, eliminating the backlog in those areas.”
He is very keen to try to make it work in a deprived area in a major city. The expertise is available, and funding has now also been freed up. Policy makers have come to understand that providing millions of euros for the prevention of obesity in children is an excellent investment. Scientists have shown that it makes no sense to say to parents: ‘Your child is overweight and you’re not doing a good job.’ They need help with the wide range of major problems they face, which tend to marginalize overweight and other health issues. “People in these neighbourhoods struggle with money problems, aggression and stress. If you ask them about where things go awry, they tell you about how their kids sleep poorly, have no friends and do not go outside to play.”