The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday called on governments to reverse the trend of a global epidemic in childhood obesity by promoting healthy foods and physical activities. The call is contained in a report launched by the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO).
The report stated that the number of overweight children under five years would jump from 42 million to 70 million over the next decade. It noted that following globalisation and urbanisation, exposure to unhealthy environments kept increasing, with the marketing of unhealthy foods a major factor.
In 2014, the report stated that almost 48 per cent of all overweight and obese children below the age of five lived in Asia and one quarter in Africa. The number of overweight children aged under five in Africa nearly doubled since 1990 from 5.4 million to 10.3 million.
The report urged WHO to institutionalise a cross-cutting and life-course approach to end childhood obesity, recommending that Non-Governmental Organisations should raise the profile of the problem. It also called on the private sector to support the production of and improved access to healthy foods and beverages. It added that the marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages was a major factor in the alarming increase, which rose from 31 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2014, particularly in the developing world, the greatest rise coming from low- and middle-income countries.
The report also called on governments to promote the intake of healthy foods and reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages by children and adolescents, through effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing the marketing of unhealthy foods, for example. The report also urged the promotion of physical activities with comprehensive programmes that reduced sedentary behaviours in children and adolescents. It recommended preconception and pregnancy care to reduce the risk of childhood obesity by preventing low or high birth weight, prematurity and other complications in pregnancy. It stated that early childhood diet and physical activity, promoting breastfeeding; limiting consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, ensuring availability of healthy foods and fostering physical activity in early child care were ideal.
It further called for establishment of standards in school meals, eliminating the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks, as well as including health and nutrition and quality physical education in core school curriculum. It also called for weight management, providing family-based multi component, lifestyle weight management services for children and young people who were obese.
According to the report, many children are growing up today in environments where weight gain and obesity are encouraged. Presenting the report to the WHO Director-General, the ECHC Co-Chair, Peter Gluckman, called for increased political commitment by governments to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity. Gluckman said WHO needed to work with governments to implement a wide range of measures that addressed the environmental causes of obesity and overweight, and help to give children the healthy start to life they deserved.