Childhood obesity continues to rise

According to a report published by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, 107 million children (out of a global population of around 7.5 billion) are officially obese; a figure that accounts for around 5% of the world’s child population. When we turn our attention specifically to the current trends across Europe, the figures are just as worrying, with UK MPs calling for stronger action on childhood obesity

But why are our children becoming overweight or obese? Current statistics gathered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal that European adolescents spend 60% of their time sitting down. Is it the increasing lack of exercise to blame? It’s true that for the past 50 years, male and female bodies have been changing, but regardless of these developments we cannot deny that child obesity is a highly concerning issue and one that needs immediate attention.

Why should we be worried about child obesity?

Apart from the obvious immediate concerns related to infant health conditions, child obesity can cause traumatic emotional difficulties resulting from low self-esteem. Children who are obese find it more challenging to join in with physical activities at school, contributing to their underachievement in the classroom. They are also showing signs of introverted behaviour as they shy away from the pressures of social situations.

Obese children are also beginning to suffer from conditions that should really only be concerns for ageing adults, including cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and problems resulting from bone and muscle malformation. The fear is that obese children will continue to experience severe weight problems in adult life and that the health problems they develop as infants will only get worse with age.

 What is being done to reduce child obesity in Europe?

The European Union, supported by a number of international organisations, has been trying to reduce child obesity via the EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity, which covers the continent’s plans for tackling the issue up to 2020. The WHO is also renewing efforts to better govern the overall quality of the average European’s diet via the 2015-2020 European Food and Action Plan.

At the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva in May 2017, the United States made it clear that it strongly supports efforts to end childhood obesity – a critical public health issue in the U.S. Indeed, tackling childhood obesity is one of the country’s top three clinical health priorities. To address childhood obesity, the U.S. government believes that comprehensive, cost-effective, evidence-based strategies must be first identified and then incorporated into the use of public-private partnerships.

Why are these measures failing to work?

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) believes that we are failing to successfully deal with child obesity issues because we’re tackling the problem in the wrong way. The EPHA is calling for a more horizontal approach to the problem. At present, plans to reduce child obesity remain in the hands of health ministers. There’s little call for influential voices that work in economy, trade, agriculture, education, employment, marketing and advertising to do their part towards tackling the issue.

In short, child obesity is something that we must begin tackling together – a global response to a global issue – if we’re going to find a way of reducing it. In particular, it seems that regardless of special measures put in place by government bodies and health organisations, if individual industries fail to see the importance of their input on a daily basis, child obesity is likely to become even more difficult to combat.

Jane Sandwood

Author: Jane Sandwood

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