WHO Study Sounds Alarm Over Childhood Obesity

The results were published October 10 and find the number of obese children worldwide rose from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. A further 213 million children and teenagers were overweight, but fell below the threshold for obesity. Several Arab countries (eg Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) also had similar rates.

This rose to 7.8 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively by 2016, the Lancet medical journal reports.

A new study has found that cases of child obesity are 10 times higher now than they were 40 years ago.

Study author Dr James Bentham, from the University of Kent, said: "This is not an excuse for complacency as more than one in five young people in the US and one in 10 in the United Kingdom are obese". Additionally, rates of child and adolescent obesity are accelerating in east, south and southeast Asia, and continue to increase in other low and middle-income regions. Obesity comes with the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, while underweight children are more at risk from infectious diseases.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the World Health Organization compiled the height and weight of almost 130 million people.

"We are seeing underweight continuing, it's going down slowly".

Taxation and tough restrictions on marketing of junk food should be considered, it said. Basically, researchers are indirectly calling for taxing sugar and other unhealthy foods.

"So it may be that more people are getting more nutrition then they need".

While Ezzati called for government regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy, sugar-rich foods, World Health Organization chronic disease expert Fiona Bull added that children should spend less time in front of digital screens and more time doing sports.

This leads to social inequalities in face of obesity and limits possibilities of reducing this burden, stresses researcher.

The health issues associated with childhood obesity are complex and far-reaching.

Indeed, it is common for children in Switzerland to walk to school, and there are support groups for kids who need to lose weight. Bullying and depression go hand in hand with childhood obesity.

Ms Fiona Bull, Programme Coordinator for Surveillance and Population-based Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO, said obesity was a global health crisis.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in the study that if current trends continued, there would be more obese children and adolescents than those moderately or severely underweight by 2022.

In Europe, girls in Malta and boys in Greece had the highest obesity rates, at 11.3% and 16.7% of the population respectively.

Furthermore, these children aren't at opposite ends of the spectrum - data shows that underweight children can quickly become overweight, due to the same reasons mentioned above.

This includes countries in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean which have experienced an increase in the consumption of energy-dense foods, especially highly processed carbohydrates, says the report from Imperial College London and WHO. And the problem is more than just physical. By now, this is a worldwide health crisis which should not be treated lightly. Hopefully, faced with the evidence, political figures will take more serious action.

Vanessa Coleman

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