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Tackling obesity would boost economic and social well-being

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Obesity-related diseases will claim more than 90 million lives in OECD countries in the next 30 years, with life expectancy reduced by nearly 3 years. Obesity and its related conditions also reduce GDP by 3.3% in OECD countries and exact a heavy toll on personal budgets, amounting to USD 360 per capita per year, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s The Heavy Burden of Obesity – The Economics of Prevention says that more than half the population is now overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people is obese. Average rates of adult obesity in OECD countries have increased from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2016, meaning an additional 50 million people are now obese.


Children in particular are paying a high price for obesity. Children who are overweight do less well at school, are more likely to miss school, and, when they grow up, are less likely to complete higher education. They also show lower life satisfaction and are up to three times more likely to be bullied, which in turn may contribute to lower school performance.

Obese adults are at greater risk of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and reduced life expectancy. In the EU28, women and men in the lowest income group are, respectively, 90% and 50% more likely to be obese, compared to those on the highest incomes, entrenching inequality. Individuals with at least one chronic disease associated with being overweight are 8% less likely to be employed the following year. When they have a job, they are up to 3.4% more likely to be absent or less productive.

“There is an urgent economic and social case to scale up investments to tackle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “These findings clearly illustrate the need for better social, health and education policies that lead to better lives. By investing in prevention, policymakers can halt the rise in obesity for future generations, and benefit economies. There is no more excuse for inaction.”

OECD countries already spend 8.4% of their total health budget on treating obesity-related diseases. This is equivalent to about USD 311 billion or USD 209 per capita per year. Obesity is responsible for 70% of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23% for cardiovascular diseases and 9% for cancers.

New OECD analysis in the report finds that investing in initiatives like better labelling of food in shops or regulating the advertising of unhealthy foods to children can generate major savings. Every dollar invested in preventing obesity would generate an economic return of up to six dollars, according to the report.

Reducing by 20% the calorie content in energy-dense food, such as crisps and confectionery, could avoid more than 1 million cases of chronic disease per year, particularly heart disease. Initiatives targeting the whole population, such as food and menus displaying nutritional information and mass media campaigns, could lead to gains of  between 51,000 to 115,000 life years per year up to 2050 in the 36 countries included in the analysis. This would be equivalent to preventing all road deaths in EU28 and OECD countries respectively. Economic savings would also be significant, with menu labelling alone saving up to USD 13 billion between 2020 and 2050. The report, together with country notes for Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom, are available at http://www.oecd.org/health/the-heavy-burden-of-obesity-67450d67-en.htm.

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Solar PV Employs More Women Than Any Renewables

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Solar photovoltaic (PV) has emerged to be the leading employer in the renewable energy sector, both in global number of employees and in gender balance. In 2021, the solar PV industry employs 4.3 million people—one-third of all renewable energy jobs worldwide. Women account for 40% of this number. It is almost double the share of women employed in the wind industry (21%) and the oil and gas sector (22%). It is also higher than the average share of women employed in all renewables sectors, which is 32%.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)’s new report, Solar PV: A Gender Perspective, finds that women fare best in solar PV manufacturing, representing 47% of the workforce. Service providers and developers follow with 39% and 37%, respectively, while solar PV installers perform the least, with barely 12% of the segment’s workforce.

“A just and inclusive energy transition is not only about energy access. It is about making sure everyone is included and benefits from the process,” says Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA. “The findings of our new report are promising and confirm renewable energy’s great potential as an equal employer, but they also signal the need to step up our efforts to pave the way for more women to lead the energy transition and shape our shared future.”

Presented at the 8th World Conference on PV Energy Conversion in Milan today, the report highlights the need for equal opportunities for women in technical positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and in other professional fields, where they hold 38% and 32% of positions, respectively. Additionally, there is a wide space for women to take over more decision-making positions, as they currently hold 30% of managerial jobs and barely 13% of senior management posts in the solar PV industry.

Decentralised solar PV, on the other hand, seems to offer significant opportunities, as the off-grid solar PV value chain engages women both in delivering solutions and as beneficiaries. Driven in part by off-grid solar PV deployments, women account for 35% of other non-technical positions such as marketing, sales, distribution, and product assembly and installation.

Based on IRENA’s global survey of some 1,300 individuals and organisations conducted in 2021, the report evaluates the role of women in the solar PV industry, highlighting barriers and opportunities. The most prominent barriers are perceptions of gender roles, lack of fair and transparent policies, as well as cultural and social norms that shape behaviour.

Raising awareness on gender equality, improving national as well as workplace policies, offering more training, networking opportunities and access to mentorships are all critical steps to level the playfield for women in the sector. These efforts are needed not only to increase the participation of women, but also to diversify the workforce by including the visions, talents and skills of all minority groups.

This is the third report in the Gender Perspective series, which is an integral part of IRENA’s extensive research work on the effects of renewable energy deployment during energy transitions. The initial focus on employment creation and skills was expanded over time to cover other socio-economic elements such as gross domestic product, broader measures of welfare, local economic value creation, improved livelihoods and gender-differentiated impacts.

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Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT

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By  MICHAEL ALLEN

Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.

These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.

There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.

Small devices

Many of these devices are too small to use a long-life battery and they are located in remote or hard-to-access locations – for instance in the middle of the ocean tracking a shipping container or at the top of a grain silo, monitoring levels of cereal. These types of locations make servicing some IoT devices extremely challenging and commercially and logistically infeasible.

Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, summarises the marketplace. ‘It’s projected that we are going to have one trillion sensors in the world by 2025,’ he said, ‘That is one thousand billion sensors.’

That number is not as crazy as it first seems, according to Hayes, who is the coordinator of the Horizon-funded EnABLES project (European Infrastructure Powering the Internet of Things).

If you think about the sensors in the technology someone might carry on their person or have in their car, home, office plus the sensors embedded in the infrastructure around them such as roads and railways, you can see where that number comes from, he explained.

‘In the trillion IoT sensor world predicted for 2025, we are going to be throwing over 100 million batteries everyday into landfills unless we significantly extend battery life,’ Hayes said.

Battery life

Landfill is not the only environmental concern. We also need to consider where all the material to make the batteries is going to come from. The EnABLES project is calling on the EU and industry leaders to think about battery life from the outset when designing IoT devices to ensure that batteries are not limiting the lifespan of devices.

‘We don’t need the device to last forever,’ said Hayes. ‘The trick is that you need to outlive the application that you’re serving. For example, if you want to monitor a piece of industrial equipment, you probably want it to last for five to 10 years. And in some cases, if you do a regular service every three years anyway, once the battery lasts more than three or four years that’s probably good enough.’

Although many devices have an operational life of more than 10 years, the battery life of wireless sensors is typically only one to two years.

The first step to longer battery life is increasing the energy supplied by batteries. Also, reducing the power consumption of devices will prolong the battery. But EnABLES is going even further.

The project brings together 11 leading European research institutes. With other stakeholders, EnABLES is working to develop innovative ways to harvest tiny ambient energies such as light, heat and vibration.

Harvesting such energies will further extend battery life. The goal is to create self-charging batteries that last longer or ultimately run autonomously.

Energy harvesters

Ambient energy harvesters, such as a small vibrational harvester or indoor solar panel, that produce low amounts of power (in the milliwatt range) could significantly extend the battery life of many devices, according to Hayes. These include everyday items like watches, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, hearing aids, carbon dioxide detectors, and temperature, light and humidity sensors.

EnABLES is also designing the other key technologies needed for tiny IoT devices. Not content with improving energy efficiency, the project is also trying to develop a framework and standardised and interoperable technologies for these devices.

One of the key challenges with autonomously powered IoT tools is power management. The energy source may be intermittent and at very low levels (microwatts), and different methods of harvesting supply different forms of power that require different techniques to convert to electricity.

Steady trickle

Huw Davies, is chief executive officer of Trameto, a company which is developing power management for piezo electric applications. He points out that energy from photovoltaic devices tends to come in a steady trickle, while that from piezoelectric devices, which convert ambient energy from movements (vibrations) into electrical energy, generally comes in bursts.

‘You need a way of storing that energy locally in a store before it is delivered into a load, so you need to have ways of managing that,’ Davies said.

He is the project coordinator of the Horizon-funded HarvestAll project, which has developed an energy management system for ambient energy dubbed OptiJoule.

OptiJoule works with piezoelectric materials, photovoltaics and thermal electric generators. It can function with any of these sources on their own, or with multiple energy harvesting sources at the same time.

The goal is to enable autonomous sensors to be self-sustaining. In principle, it’s quite simple. ‘What we are talking about is ultra-low powered sensors taking some digital measurement,’ said Davies. ‘Temperature, humidity, pressure, whatever it is, with the data from that being delivered into the internet.’

Integrated circuits

The HarvestAll energy management integrated circuit device adjusts to match the different energy harvesters. It takes the different and intermittent energy created by these harvesters and stores it, for instance in a battery or capacitor, and then manages the delivery of a steady output of energy to the sensor.

Similarly to the EnABLES project, the idea is to create standardised technology that will enable the rapid development of long battery life/autonomous IoT devices in Europe and the world.

Davies said that the energy management circuit works completely autonomously and automatically. It is designed so that it can just be plugged into an energy harvester, or combination of harvesters, and a sensor. As a replacement for the battery it has a significant advantage, according to Davies, because ‘It will just work.’

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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European ministers adopt “Dublin Declaration” on preventing violence through equality

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Thirty-eight Council of Europe member states have committed to a “Dublin Declaration” outlining a series of steps to promote gender equality in order to help prevent domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The declaration was adopted by Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom following a two-day conference of justice ministers organised by Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe.

Inspired by the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and expert findings on the implementation of the convention so far, states backing the declaration committed to:

  1. actively promoting, at the highest level, an institutional and political culture which rejects gender-based discrimination and violence, sexism, gender stereotypes and gendered power dynamics in the public and private sector
  2. ensuring that strategies aimed at preventing and combating violence against women also address the specific role of men and boys in preventing violence against women
  3. systematically including awareness-raising campaigns as an integral and fully funded part of long-term action plans on violence against women
  4. taking measures to include in the official curriculum, of all levels of education, teaching material on issues such as the principle of equality between women and men, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity
  5. providing guidelines for educational material in this area and the training of educational professionals, as well as the creation of knowledge platforms to share best practices
  6. encouraging initial and in-service training of all relevant professionals, including within the criminal justice system
  7. taking all possible measures to ensure that episodes of violence are taken into consideration by courts when deciding upon custody and visitation rights
  8. increasing the provision of perpetrator programmes for domestic violence and for sexual violence operating on the standards and principles set out in the Istanbul Convention
  9. asking the Council of Europe to carry out a comparative study in member states on the existing models and approaches taken to perpetrator programmes and their results
  10. inviting states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention and reinforce efforts to implement existing international legal standards in the area of gender equality and violence against women

To date, 37 Council of Europe member states have ratified the Istanbul Convention, enabling its entry into force in those countries. Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania the Slovak Republic – and the European Union as a whole – have signed, but not yet ratified, the convention. Azerbaijan has not yet signed the convention and Türkiye denounced it in March 2021.

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