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Childhood obesity

Childhood obesity could increase to 75 million by 2025

Since 1990, the number of obese and overweight children expanded from four to 10 million

The number of obese and overweight children in the world could increase from 44 million in 2012 to 75 million by 2025, according to a report for the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is faster than the growth rate from 1990, when the number was 31 million. In Africa alone, the number of obese and overweight children expanded from four to 10 million over the same period.

"Child obesity is one of the major health issue for tomorrow and today," said Peter Gluckman, who co-presides over the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. “Obese children will grow up to become obese adults, who will suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high rates of cancer and other health problems. People have to understand that children are not little adults. Therefore, tackling obesity among this group will involve a strategy different from that employed among adults.”

The 15-member commission was created by the WHO in June to bring together the best team of individuals to help formulate a plan to combat childhood obesity. The commission will produce a report for the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, which meets in Geneva once a year.

"Social scientists, public health specialists, clinical scientists and economists will join together to synthesise the best available evidence into a coherent plan," said a WHO document on the commission's mission.

The Commission will be supported by two working groups.

An ad hoc Working Group on Science and Evidence consisting of experts in epidemiology, paediatrics, nutrition, development origins, health literacy, and marketing to children, health economics, physical activity and gestational diabetes will:

  • estimate the prevalence of childhood obesity and its consequences
  • evaluate the economic impact of childhood obesity
  • examine the evidence on prevention of childhood obesity and how to reverse it in affected children; and determine the best combination of policies to put in place to achieve these goals in different settings
  • evaluate and recommend policy options for monitoring and surveillance.

The Working Group on Implementation, Monitoring and Accountability will consist of experts in monitoring and accountability, joined by representatives of governments, civil society, groups representing children, advocates for child health and nutrition, and international organizations. This group will develop:

  • a framework for implementation of and accountability for policies recommended by the Working Group on Science and Evidence
  • mechanisms required to monitor recommended policy options
  • assessment of the feasibility of monitoring recommended policy options
  • an approach ensuring that countries are not unduly burdened by reporting requirements.

At one time, communicable or infectious diseases were considered the major threat in developing countries.  But, now non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and cancer are emerging as major challenges.  They are linked to four life-style risk factors, including unhealthy diet, little physical activity and the harmful use of alcohol and tobacco.

“It is about optimising the health of mothers, of women, of girls before they get pregnant. Optimizing the conditions of pregnancy. Promoting good breast feeding and weaning behaviors, much of which has been lost, particularly in Western countries,” he added. “At the same time, you have got to worry about obesity in the environment, reinforce and making sure that there are a number of things that you can do to promote healthy eating and diet in young people.”

He also noted huge problems of obesity in the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean and Middle East. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries.

The World Health Assembly in 2014 adopted the "Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013-2020" which aims to achieve the commitments of the UN Political Declaration on NCDs. The action plan will contribute to progress on 9 global NCD targets to be attained in 2025, including halting of the global obesity rates in school-aged children, adolescents and adults.

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