|By 2030, the number of obese children will increase to 254 million worldwide, according to the report / Photo Credit: Shutterstock|
Failure to adopt key policies to protect children's health will lead to an increase in the number of obese children, according to a new report on childhood obesity.
In the first Atlas of Childhood Obesity, published by the World Obesity Foundation (WOF) last week, no country is close to meeting the target of ensuring that childhood obesity levels will not surpass the 2010-2012 rates.
There's less than a 10 percent chance that 156 of the 191 countries in the report have a chance of reaching their targets as child obesity levels are predicted to rise in the coming years—with emerging economies driving the growth.
Five years left
In 2013, world leaders agreed to curb the rise of childhood obesity levels and ensure that that it will not be higher in 2025 than in 2010-2012. They have five years left until the deadline—and none of them is on track to reach that goal.
The number of children aged 5 to 19 years old living with obesity is predicted to reach 254 million by 2030 worldwide—and countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America are driving the increase.
Leading the world list is China, with over 60 million children expected to be classified as obese followed by India with 27 million, and the US as third with nearly 17 million. Nigeria and South Africa are leading the nations in Africa with over six million and four million obese children, respectively, in the next decade.
CNN reports that the increasing numbers are due to the rapidly changing lifestyles in the regions, as well as the "growing popularity and aggressive marketing of junk food" both in rich and poor countries.
"There's a transition away from traditional diets and ways of doing things," Tim Lobstein, director of policy at the WOF and one of the authors of the report, told the news agency. "People are expending less energy, becoming more sedentary and adopting a Western-style diet that's high in sugar, oil, starch, and fat."
He added that the "extraordinary increase" in the forecast surprised him. Lobstein warned that childhood obesity will likely sanction a significant burden on health systems with its association with obesity in adulthood which, in turn, is linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
"That's a massive leap. It will flood health systems, particularly in developing countries," the author said.
Neglect can cost billions
Aside from the adverse effects on children's health, WOF CEO Johanna Ralston said the rising level of childhood obesity also has major effects on a nation's capacity to address the issue.
Speaking with Al Jazeera, a Qatari state-funded broadcaster, Ralston said obese children today are likely to grow up to become obese adults who are vulnerable to "a high level of consequential diseases." These diseases include cardiovascular problems, diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, gallstones, and breathing problems.
She added that the lack of prevention and treatment during childhood will reflect higher costs for health services in many countries.
Although there is no official data reflecting the economic cost of childhood obesity, dealing with obesity among adults (two billion of which are affected) would cost $1.3 trillion annually by 2030, Al Jazeera reports, citing estimates from the WOF report.
"And we should not forget the cost for the individual in terms of marginalization," Ralston noted.
Meanwhile, Lobstein said health services in many countries won't be able to cope with the costs.
"There may be a certain fatigue in listening to these figures getting worse and worse," he told the British newspaper The Guardian adding, "but doing nothing is going to cost an awful lot more than making serious interventions in the marketplace to reduce the global marketing of soft drinks and ultra-processed foods."
Reluctance of governments
There are emerging statements from policymakers and countries saying they are beginning to take the obesity issue seriously, according to Lobstein.
"A bit like the climate crisis and global overheating, we see resistance to intervene in what are otherwise free markets in order to improve people’s and the planet’s health," he said.
However, government action towards addressing obesity has been weak and Lobstein said governments are either acting slowly or not at all.
So far, 70 percent of countries failed to adopt key policies like implementing national guidelines for healthy diets because they have a strong resistance to go against commercial interests—with multinational companies around the world pushing nutritious foods out of the marketplace with their production of cheap yet unhealthy food.
|Obesity can lead to various health problems like cardiovascular disease / Photo Credit: Shutterstock|
Initiatives such as sugar and soda taxes have a small impact since these policies are difficult to enact in lower-income countries, the policy director noted, since these economies are more likely to be persuaded by commercial interests.
"Commercial interests of the food industry are a major contributor to the obesity challenge, but even in countries where policies exist, they are not implemented," Ralston said.
Obesity has become a major challenge for decades, partly due to the rising consumption of subsidized food and neglect from governing bodies. Less active modes of transportation and kids not getting enough activity are also factors for the continuing challenge.
While these causes can be addressed individually, governments should also take action and lead as an example for people to adopt a healthier lifestyle while also putting public health ahead of commercial interests.