WHO: Number of overweight children to double in next decade

The biggest increases have come in low- and middle- income countries, however officials say expanded marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages has helped drive obesity in all countries.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 25, 2016 at 5:18 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- More than 41 million children under age 5 worldwide are overweight or obese, a number the World Health Organization said in a new report will rise to more than 70 million during the next decade.

The WHO's Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity calls on world governments to start working to reverse the trend, with the biggest increases coming in low- and middle-income countries since 1990.

The report points to children's environments, increasingly saturated with marking for unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages, driven by globalization and urbanization, as a major factor in increasing obesity around the world.

"Increased political commitment is needed to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity," said Peter Gluckman, co-chair of the commission, in a press release. "WHO needs to work with governments to implement a wide range of measures that address the environmental causes of obesity and overweight, and help give children the healthy start to life they deserve."

The commission reports that children worldwide ages 5 and under who are overweight increased from 4.8 percent, or 31 million children, in 1990 to 6.1 percent, or 41 million children, in 2014. In lower middle-income countries, the number of children who were overweight doubled from 7.5 million to 15.5 million.

In Africa, the number of overweight children has also doubled since 1990 from 5.4 million to 10.3 million in 2014, representing 25 percent of all overweight and obese children worldwide.

The report includes six recommendations to reduce the growing numbers of obese young children around the world: promote intake of healthy foods; promote physical activity; better preconception and pregnancy care; improve early childhood diet and physical activity; improve health, nutrition, and physical activity for school-age children; and more active management of weight.

"Overweight and obesity impact on a child's quality of life, as they face a wide range of barriers, including physical, psychological and health consequences," Sania Nishtar, co-chair of the commission, said in a press release. "We know that obesity can impact on educational attainment too and this, combined with the likelihood that they will remain obese into adulthood, poses major health and economic consequences for them, their families and society as a whole."

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