News article

WHO Ending Childhood Obesity working group meets for first time

Posted:  Thursday, October 09, 2014

The prevalence of obesity in children is increasing around the world, with serious implications for their health later in life. Reducing childhood obesity is now a critical target for the WHO as part of a strategy to promote healthy life expectancy, not only for children today, but also for the next generation.

To help advice its actions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened an ad hoc Working Group on Science and Evidence for Ending Childhood Obesity. The group consists of academics, researchers and experts in the many diverse fields relating to childhood obesity.

The group met for the first time in June, in Geneva to explore the topic in detail and determine the best solutions for successfully addressing obesity.

During their discussions, the group looked at life-course studies. These strongly suggest that interventions in early life, when biology is most ‘plastic’ and amenable to change, are likely to have sustained effects on health, particularly because they can influence responses to later challenges such as living in an obesogenic environment.

Interventions aimed at preventing childhood obesity would therefore lead to a reduction in comorbidities in children and a reduction of the long-term burden of non-communicable diseases.

Given the is strong political consensus for action during the early stages of life and the combination of short-term direct and indirect benefits and longer-term effects in the primary prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), there is a powerful economic and social argument for action.

If childhood obesity could be successfully addressed, the benefits derived would include improvements in maternal and child health, greater human capital gain through academic achievements in young people today and in the next generation, improvements in productivity, longevity, and health and wealth capital in many countries. Addressing childhood obesity thus has a compelling logic.

New scientific insights offering novel opportunities for interventions in the pre-conceptional period, infancy and childhood can complement existing maternal and child health interventions and potentially augment their effectiveness. However, there needs to be clear guidance on what combinations of interventions are likely to be most effective in different contexts across the globe and the group will continue to work towards the creation of such guidelines.

Working group identified a number of research gaps and areas requiring further study, which it seeks to address before submitting its final report to the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

Ending Childhood Obesity working group first meeting report