Commission calls for political action to address childhood obesity

31 January 2016

The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) delivered a strong message calling for greater political commitment to address childhood obesity in its final report to the World Health Organisation.

The commission, co-chaired by renowned New Zealand scientist Sir Peter Gluckman, detailed six recommendations for governments in order to see the number of overweight and obese children drop from 41 million. 

The commission’s co-chair Sir Peter Gluckman says now is the time to take action.

“Increased political commitment is needed to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity. 

“The World Health Organisation 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."

The six recommendations outlined in the report are:

1. Promote the intake of healthy foods
This involves comprehensive programmes that promote the intake of healthy foods and reduce the intake of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages by children and adolescents.

This would include effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing the marketing of unhealthy foods.

2. Promote physical activity
Through comprehensive programmes that promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviours in children and adolescents.

3. Preconception and pregnancy care
Strengthen guidance around the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with current guidance on preconception and antenatal care (to reduce risk of childhood obesity by preventing low or high birth weight, prematurity and other complications in pregnancy).

4. Early childhood diet and physical activity
Provide guidance on, and support for, healthy diet, sleep and physical activity in early childhood and promote healthy habits to ensure children grow appropriately and develop healthy habits.

This includes promoting breastfeeding; limiting consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and salt; ensuring the availability of healthy foods and physical activity in the early child care settings.

5. Health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children
Implement comprehensive programmes that promote healthy school environments, health and nutrition literacy and physical activity among school-age children and adolescents.

This includes establishing standards for school meals; eliminating the sale of unhealthy foods and drinks and; including health and nutrition and quality physical education in the core curriculum.

6. Weight management
Provide family-based, multi-component, lifestyle weight management services for children and young people who are obese.

Fellow commission co-chair, Dr Sania Nishtar, says the global epidemic is impinging on children’s lives in very real ways.

“Overweight and obesity impact on a child’s quality of life, as they face a wide range of barriers, including physical, psychological and health consequences.

“We also know that obesity can impact on educational attainment too and this, combined with the likelihood that they will remain obese into adulthood, poses major health and economic consequences for them, their families and society as a whole."

According to the report, many children are growing up today in environments that encourage weight gain and obesity.

The marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages was identified as a major factor in the increase in numbers of children being overweight and obese, particularly in the developing world.

Overweight prevalence among children aged under 5 years has risen between 1990 and 2014, from 4.8% to 6.1%, with the number of affected children rising from 31 million to 41 million during that time.

The report highlights that overweight and obese children are now becoming more prevalent in the developing world.  The number of overweight children in lower middle-income countries has more than doubled between 1990 and 2014, from 7.5 million to 15.5 million.

In 2014, almost half (48%) of all overweight and obese children aged under 5 lived in Asia and one-quarter (25%) in Africa. The number of overweight children aged under 5 in Africa has nearly doubled since 1990 (5.4 million to 10.3 million).

You can read the final report here: Final report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity

And you may also like to check out this comment piece in The Lancet: Ending childhood obesity: a time for action