SLU news

From words to action on Uppsala Health Summit’s first day

Published: 22 October 2019

The morning is cold and a little grey and blustery, but my table companion from Canada thinks that Uppsala is full of fantastic colourful splendour, with leaves of every shade and the maples in particular that sparkle with beauty.

At SLU, we are organising the Uppsala Health Summit for the sixth time together with Uppsala University, but also in collaboration with several government agencies, the municipality, the region and some other partners. The theme varies over the years, but just as the name indicates, health is always a central element. Some years, our contribution to the event is a little smaller, other years, it can be a little more significant. This time, Petter Åkerblom has been made Chair of the Programme Committee, a role he has clearly excelled in, as the programme is interesting and exciting and has attracted the 200 or so participants that we were aiming for at this summit. This year’s theme, Healthy Urban Childhoods, has been in Petter’s wheelhouse for many years.

As before, there are participants from all over the world, although many come from Sweden.

The day begins with an opening speech by Prince Daniel and it is noticeable that he is very committed to the cause, in addition to being the official figure he is.

Uppsala Health Summit is built around a mix of plenary lectures by mostly international top speakers and very ambitious workshops where participants are treated to further presentations, but where the main objective is to identify activities and paths forward and to find out what all involved can do to improve the situation within this year’s theme. By mixing experiences and backgrounds across disciplines, areas of activity and countries, the idea is for us all to gain new perspectives and ideas that we can actually put into practice in our respective environments.

This year, our researchers at SLU are responsible for several workshops, independently or together with others. The workshop I attend offers exactly what we want to see; engagement, the exchange of experiences from completely different worlds, a lot of recognition, but also some new perspectives, which will certainly lead to future collaborations with branches far outside SLU.

Uppsala Dansakademi puts on a dance performance and gives a clear illustration of how challenging it can be for children to find space in today’s cities, expressed through them deftly dancing their way between the conference tables.

There were two highlights during the afternoon that I would like to share: When 15-year-old Emilia Carai, who had done a school project on children’s view of the physical environment they occupy, takes the stage she radiates a presence and energy that immediately fills the whole Rikssalen (former Hall of State). It is rare that I have seen someone captivate the room, in this case an entire castle, in such a tangible way. Emilia talks about the importance of outdoor environments for children and condenses a broad perspective into the main assertion that “There should be a tree for every child”.

Another presentation describes the work of making cities in India more child-friendly, or at least creating refuges where children can play. Dr Sudeshna Chaterjee initially talks about challenges and how they can be dealt with, and she does so in the context of talking about the situation in the “majority world”. This term is new to me. It is worthwhile being reminded that not only I, but the whole of the EU, belongs to a small minority.

It has been an enriching first day, and I am struck by how I, in one respect, find it a little strange that a summit like this is needed. We know now how important it is for all people, and for children in particular, to engage in physical activity and have stimulating outdoor environments. We have extensive scientific evidence of how important children’s opportunities are during their upbringing, and the positive impact of physical activity on a wide range of areas is indisputable today. In another respect, it is quite obvious that the goal of this year’s summit, to take the step from words to action, to inspire concrete intervention, is needed in many cities and in many areas. 


Erik Fahlbeck, Pro Vice-Chancellor, external collaboration at SLU, reports on behalf of SLU Urban Futures from Uppsala Health Summit on Tuesday, 8 October.