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World Obesity Day, organised by the World Obesity Federation, is observed globally on 11th October in order to raise awareness about the need for a global effort to reduce, prevent and treat obesity.
Childhood obesity is on the rise around the world, with the number of obese children projected to increase from 150 million to 250 million by 2030. Experts have pointed to government failure to curtail rising consumption of processed junk foods and to adequately promote healthier dietary habits as leading causes of the obesity crisis. With many of the countries predicted to face the biggest increase in childhood obesity rates located in Asia-Pacific, the region must step up its efforts to combat the health epidemic.
The World Obesity Federation (WOF), a global non-profit organisation officially linked to the World Health Organisation, has recently compiled the world’s first global Childhood Obesity Atlas. The Atlas contains “risk score” data calculated by the federation on 191 countries for the coming decade.
The figures reported in the data bank are striking. Only 1 in 10 countries have just a 50% chance of achieving the WHO global target of keeping childhood obesity rates down from 2010 to 2025. Even more alarming is the overall finding that the number of obese children around the world will grow to 250 million by 2030, a huge rise from the current figures of 150 million obese children. Of these 250 million, around 1 in 5 will suffer from severe obesity, which requires bariatric surgery to medically intervene. Severely obese children may also already develop Type 2 diabetes, an epidemic that used to only affect adults.
Childhood obesity is a crucial challenge for governments to tackle, because they have a higher likelihood of becoming obese adults and developing serious chronic health problems such as coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The expected growth in childhood obesity will therefore pose further risks to an already overwhelmed health system in many countries with direct and indirect medical costs amounting to billions of dollars in required care.
Speaking about the data, WOF’s president Donna Ryan and chief executive Johanna Ralson said that the predicted rise “shows a critical failure of government to respect and protect our children’s rights to good health.”
Countries in Asia-Pacific are most vulnerable to the childhood obesity crisis especially as the region experiences rapid economic development and urbanisation, accompanied by trends towards convenient, over-processed junk food.
The Atlas found that there will be a huge jump in obesity rates in children aged between 5-9 years in China and India. While China is looking at almost 62 million obese children by 2030, India will see its population grow to 27 million. Many of the Pacific Islands also scored highly on the Atlas for risk of an obesity crisis, including the Cook Islands and Palau.
Commenting on the forecast, WOF policy director Tim Lobstein told the Guardian: “What we are seeing is a rising tide that has not been addressed in the policy world sufficiently…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.”
Health experts agree that drastic action must be taken against commercial and corporate interests, particularly manufacturers of cheap junk food, that have been at the crux of the obesity crisis. Especially in Asia-Pacific, where many countries are still developing their medial infrastructure, ignoring the threat of an obesity crisis will leave state services unable to cope.
In addition to the failure to tackle the availability of cheap, ultra-processed foods lacking in nutritious value from becoming a widespread part of the daily diet of children, obesity rates are also fuelled by decreasing levels of physical activity that urban youth living in crowded cities face.
“What we are seeing is the rise of more convenience foods, more motorised and less active transport…the rise of sedentary pursuits,” said consultant paediatrician and head of child and adolescent health at the University of Sydney Louise Baur in conversation with the Guardian.
Lead image courtesy of Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend Images / Getty Images.