Between 1990 and 2014, the number of overweight children under the age of five rose from 4.8% to 6.1%. That percentage increase represents nearly 10 million children, from 31 million to 41 million.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the greatest increase in obese children occurs in low- and middle-income countries.
“Obesity prevention and treatment requires a whole-of-government approach in which policies across all sectors systematically take health into account, avoid harmful health impacts, and thus improve population health and health equity,” report the WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.
Many children today grow up in environments conducive to obesity, according to the report.
“Energy imbalance has resulted from the changes in food type, availability, affordability and marketing, as well as a decline in physical activity, with more time being spent on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities,” the commission writes.
The amount of obese children has increased from 7.5 million to 15.5 million in lower middle-income countries. An estimated 48% of overweight children in the world live in Asia and 25% live in Africa. In the latter continent, the number of overweight children under five has grown from 5.4 million in 1990 to 10.3 million in 2014.
“Among the noncommunicable disease risk factors, obesity is particularly concerning and has the potential to negate many of the health benefits that have contributed to increased life expectancy,” according to the report.
The WHO suggests a six-pronged approached to fighting obesity. The steps include promoting the intake of healthy foods; promoting physical activity; strengthening preconception and pregnancy care; guiding early childhood diet and physical activity; implementing health, nutrition, and physical activity programs for school-age children; and weight management for young people who are obese.
“Childhood obesity undermines the physical, social and psychological well-being of children and is a known risk factor for adult obesity and noncommunicable diseases. There is an urgent need to act now to improve the health of this generation and the next,” the commission reports.
“This requires government commitment and leadership, long-term investment and engagement of the whole of society to protect the rights of children to good health and well-being. The Commission believes that progress can be made if all actors remain committed to working together towards a collective goal of ending childhood obesity,” the report adds.
Peter Gluckman, the commission co-chair, said the WHO needs to work with governments, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry to implement measures addressing the environmental causes of obesity, and give children a leg-up on a healthy life.