Childhood Obesity, Alarming Problem with Major Health Consequences

Child's Feet On Scale

Childhood obesity is reaching "alarming proportions" in many countries around the world, an unrecognized public health issue that has dire health consequences for tens of millions of individuals, according to a major new report commissioned by the World Health Organization.

In 2014, an estimated 41 million children under age 5 were overweight or obese. That number is only expected to increase, mostly in low-income countries. According to US government data, obesity affects 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 in the United States.

Children who are obese are far more likely to remain obese as adults, the report states, placing these adult individuals at risk of chronic illnesses -- such as cancer. Aside from not smoking, AICR research suggests that staying a healthy weight is the single greatest factor adults can do to reduce their cancer risk.

The Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) report, presented to WHO on Monday, was a two-year process to address the alarming levels of childhood obesity and overweight globally.

Children who are obese are far more likely to remain obese as adults, the report states, placing these adult individuals at risk of chronic illness – such as cancer.

According to the report:

  • The number of overweight or obese infants and young children up to age 5 increased from 31 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2014.
  • In the WHO African Region alone, the number of overweight or obese children increased from 5.4 to 10.3 million over the same period.
  • The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries, where the rate of increase has more than doubled between 1990 and 2014.

There is no single intervention to stop the growing obesity epidemic, the report states. The ECHO report proposes six key recommendations for governments aimed at reversing the rising trend of children aged under 5 becoming overweight and obese. A failure to act will have "major medical, social and economic consequences."

1. Promote intake of healthy foods

Implement comprehensive programs that promote the intake of healthy foods and reduce the intake of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages by children and teenagers (through, for example, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing the marketing of unhealthy foods).

2. Promote physical activity

Implement comprehensive programs that promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviors in children and adolescents.

3. Preconception and pregnancy care

Integrate and strengthen guidance for the prevention of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) with current guidance on preconception and antenatal care.

4. Early childhood diet and physical activity

Provide guidance on, and support for, healthy diet, sleep and physical activity in early childhood and promote healthy habits and ensure children grow appropriately and develop healthy habits (by promoting breastfeeding and limiting consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, for example).

5. Health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children

Implement comprehensive programs that promote healthy school environments, health and nutrition literacy and physical activity among school-age children and adolescents.

6. Weight management

Provide family-based, multi component, lifestyle weight management services for children and young people who are obese.

For strategies and more information on helping kids stay a healthy weight, visit AICR Healthy Kids.

Source:  Report on The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) (pdf), presented its final report to the World Health Organization January 25, 2016.

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    Published on March 16, 2016

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