Overweight is a complex problem, which requires an integrated approach. Researchers are investigating the influence of the living environment and local policy on overweight and obesity, as well as what interventions are effective, and what role overweight plays in COVID.

Knowledge about reducing levels of overweight

Almost 60% of adults in Europe are overweight. Indeed 25% of them are seriously overweight (obese). One in three children are overweight. People who are overweight often experience multiple problems, which all impact on their health.

A healthy weight contributes to better health, not only physically but also socially. It allows people to play an active role in society. A healthy weight also reduces the chances of illness. If fewer people become ill, we can ensure healthcare remains affordable. 

ZonMw is identifying what knowledge is needed to tackle and prevent overweight. We award grants to researchers to develop knowledge about a healthy lifestyle and living environment. And we are investing in closer integrated collaboration, to encourage practitioners to use these new insights.

Health inequality and overweight

People in lower socioeconomic groups – in less prosperous neighbourhoods – are less likely to be healthy. They are for example more likely to be overweight. Why is that?

Researchers are examining the issue from the system perspective (available in Dutch) considering the cause and nature of the problem, and the mechanisms that influence it. They hope in this way to come up with potential solutions.

What role does the food environment play in health inequality? Era4Health aims to reduce health inequality by developing new strategies and targeted approaches to break the vicious circle of unhealthy lifestyles.

Impact of the living environment on overweight

Is it possible to achieve sustained behavioural change with an environment that challenges people to exercise more and eat a healthier diet? The Integrated Approach to Overweight Consortium - CIAO (available in Dutch) has developed an integrated approach to overweight. This knowledge has been incorporated into long-term policy, in collaboration with the Netherlands Youth Institute, the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Pharos and Jongeren op Gezond Gewicht (‘Young People at a Healthy Weight’, JOGG).

How can local authorities ensure that prevention policy is more aligned with the underlying causes of obesity? Researchers are identifying the effective elements of integrated local authority policy for obesity prevention (available in Dutch). They are providing insight into relevant policies, administrative processes and context.

Where you live and grow up affects your health. Researchers are investigating the impact of the physical environment on health. They are also revealing where there are opportunities for preventive policy.

Combined lifestyle intervention for overweight

GPs can refer people who are overweight (and have a health risk) for a combined lifestyle intervention (CLI). This intervention helps people work on achieving a healthy weight and changing their behaviour for good.

Role of overweight in COVID-19

This review of available knowledge found that overweight played a role in the progress of COVID (available in Dutch) in individuals. Exercise had a positive impact on the course of the disease and recovery from acute COVID-19. The disease was found to be worse in people who were overweight and/or had a chronic medical condition

The Role of Overweight in Amplifying Inflammation and Organ Failure (available in Dutch) project is currently investigating the relationship between overweight and the severity of COVID-19.

Preventing overweight in children

Excess weight has a major impact on overweight children, the people around them and on society. Examples of projects (available in Dutch) include:

System approach to overweight youngsters

In Amsterdam a system approach (available in Dutch) is being developed to encourage young people (aged 10-14) to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The researchers are looking at different points of intervention, including healthy school canteens, networks involving school, parents and supermarkets, and also policy.

A systemic approach such as this, where all elements are linked, is also part of the Healthy School initiative (available in Dutch). This is not merely about handing out fruit or introducing exercise sessions, but also about ensuring kids feek comfortable in their own bodies, and addressing issues like safety and treating each other with respect.

Preventing overweight in later life

As people grow older they often accumulate excess fat and lose muscle mass and function. Researchers are developing a digital approach to improve exercise and diet behaviour among people entering retirement (available in Dutch).

There are also several projects that encourage the over-50s to exercise more, such as organised local group walks (available in Dutch).


Prevention research

By funding prevention research, ZonMw helps provide innovative knowledge on disease prevention and health promotion, so that everyone can live as healthily as possible in a healthy environment. Our focus is on lifestyle, the living environment and socioeconomic health inequalities.


Met preventieonderzoek zorgt ZonMw voor innovatieve kennis over preventie en gezondheidsbevordering, zodat iedereen zo gezond mogelijk kan leven in een gezonde leefomgeving. Dit doen we door in te zetten op leefstijl, leefomgeving en sociaaleconomische gezondheidsverschillen.