News article

UN's Health Agency Worried About Growing Child Obesity

Posted:  Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Childhood obesity is when children have too much body fat. This means there’s a risk to their health. A healthy family lifestyle has lots of benefits for children’s health and wellbeing and can help children avoid childhood obesity.

Overweight and childhood obesity are terms you might hear when children have an excessive or abnormal amount of body fat that presents a risk to their health.

This can happen when the energy children get from food and drinks is greater than the energy they burn up through physical activity, growing and other body processes. This extra energy gets stored as fat.

Some children are also at greater risk of obesity because of genetic factors that make their bodies gain weight more easily. Effects of child obesity can lead to developing serious health disorders during childhood such as type-2 diabetes, hip and joint problems and obstructive sleep apnea.

The road to obesity is littered with diseases no child should have to confront. The snores of an overweight toddler could someday develop into obstructive sleep apnea, a collapse or narrowing of the airway that can inhibit breathing, and overweight children are more likely to develop asthma. Atherosclerosis (arterial plaque), which can result from high cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, has been seen in children as young as 3 years old. Liver disease, gallstones, pancreatitis, and severe headaches are also seen in these children.

Some consequences of childhood and adolescent overweight are psychosocial. Obese children and adolescents are targets of early and systematic social discrimination. The psychological stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning, and persist into adulthood.

The number of obese and overweight children in the world could balloon from 44 million in 2012 to 75 million in 2025, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Friday. This is faster than the growth rate from 1990, when the number was 31 million, said the UN's health body.

In Africa alone, the number of obese and overweight children expanded from four to 10 million over the same period.

“Child obesity is one of the major health issues for tomorrow and today,” Peter Gluckman, who co-presides over the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, told reporters in Geneva.

Overweight children are more likely to develop serious diseases like diabetes or cancer, and action now may prevent a heavy burden on health systems in the future, said Gluckman.

When it comes to facing childhood obesity, there is no instant cure. On the contrary, childhood obesity will continue to be a problem that affects everyone in the future, and if not cured soon, might have drastic consequences.

“Social scientists, public health specialists, clinical scientists and economists will join together to synthesize the best available evidence into a coherent plan,” said a WHO document on the commission's mission.

It must produce a report for the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, which meets in Geneva once a year.