Global Childhood Obesity Rates Rising, WHO Warns

Global Childhood Obesity Rates Rising, WHO Warns

Childhood obesity has reached alarming levels in many countries and poses an urgent challenge to global health, a report from the World Health Organization's Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity finds.

The Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (68 pages, PDF) found that overweight prevalence among children under the age of 5 globally rose from 4.8 percent in 1990 to 6.1 percent in 2014, while the total number of overweight children increased from 31 million to 41 million, with those in lower middle-income countries more than doubling, from 7.5 million to 15.5 million. As of 2014, nearly half of all overweight and obese children under the age of 5 lived in Asia, while a quarter lived in Africa. According to the report, the increase in childhood obesity is due in large part to changes in food type, availability, and affordability — driven by globalization and urbanization — as well as unhealthy environments characterized by a decline in physical activity and the marketing of unhealthy foods and sweetened beverages.

To address the  rise in childhood obesity, the commission calls on governments to promote and improve the consumption of healthy foods; encourage physical activity in children and adolescents; integrate preconception and prenatal care into current guidance focused on the reduction of risk factors for obesity; boost health, nutrition, and physical activity in school settings; and provide weight management services. The report also recommends that WHO institutionalize a cross-cutting and life-course approach to ending childhood obesity across its offices and that it increase its capacity to provide technical support for prevention efforts; that NGOs raise awareness of the obesity epidemic through advocacy and public education; and that philanthropic institutions address knowledge gaps with evidence that supports policy implementation and that they fund the adoption of monitoring and accountability activities.

"Increased political commitment is needed to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity," said commission co-chair Peter Gluckman. "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."