ECHO zones are being created here – in a pilot project

12 September 2018

Hello there Peter Bergsten, Professor of Medical Cell Biology, specifically experimental diabetes research, at the Department of Medical Cell Biology and the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Uppsala University. Your research is broad-based and on three different levels – from molecules to society. Tell us about it!

Peter Bergsten.
Peter Bergsten, Professor of Medical Cell Biology.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“We provide care to obese and severely overweight children at Uppsala University Children’s  Hospital, where we are able to examine them in greater detail and try new treatments developed for this patient group.

“At MCB, we are studying the underlying causal context at the cellular and molecular level to gain more knowledge about the factors underlying obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“For some time now, we have also been researching how a society could be organised to promote health and prevent illness in children.”

How did the collaboration with South Africa begin?

“The international Uppsala Health Summit conference in 2016 focused on the causes of childhood obesity. We had invited someone from South Africa to attend. We later followed up on our contacts and the outcome was our inclusion in the SASUF project, which further energises the collaboration.

“As an example, my South African colleague Zoleka Soji can contribute an important social perspective on profound health problems in a context that is different to ours. After all, just like in South Africa, we have major problems with obesity, and health is becoming a class issue, just like in South Africa. So, we have a lot to learn from each other, even though our societies are different.”

What is the next step?

“Our goal is to develop ‘ECHO zones’ (Ending ChildHood Obesity) in Sweden, inspired partly by the work taking place in South African communities. But our communities are more limited to a geographical area, a town or a city district. We are planning to start pilot projects with ECHO zones in Tierp, Värnamo and Gotland.

“The point is to change society in a way where children and their families participate, but politicians, businesses and other stakeholders are also included. During this process, our focus as researchers will be to collect information. From this information, we want to find out what in the change process is important to creating a sound and healthy community for children.”