Obesity is a global epidemic which can affect a child’s immediate health, educational attainment and quality of life not to mention to significant financial burden to countries all over the world.
Tackling childhood obesity is no easy task and requires a holistic multi-sectoral action plan with each government adopting micro and macro interventions specific to their country’s individual requirements.
Coinciding with World Obesity Day on October 11th a study published in the medical journal The Lancet, World Obesity Report analysed the weight and height of nearly 130 million people, including 31.5 million children aged 5-19 years of age.
It revealed the number of obese children and adolescents has risen from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – a tenfold increase.
An additional 216 million children were overweight.
In Ireland, overweight and obesity rates in Ireland are estimated to be 41.8pc in boys and 39.1pc in girls.
In terms of obesity related in Europe we rank eighth highest for out girls and 15th for out boys.
In relation to statistics on overweight, almost one third of Irish children are now overweight, ranking us 58th out of 200 countries worldwide.
The Why ?
Rapid social and economic development across the globe has led to dramatic changes in life-style for out children. According to the study’s lead author, Prof Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London “These worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe”.
Children’s choices, habits and behaviours have all evolved to display concerning patterns of sedentary life-styles, high consumption levels of processed, unhealthy foods, the influence of food marketing and a clear lack of education.
The most important motivators, determining which food is consumed, depend on the food’s taste, quality, convenience and price.
In trying to tackle issues of overweight and obesity the whole of Europe spends between 1.9% and 4.7% of the total annual health care costs and 2.8% of the annual hospital costs in dealing with overweight or obese patients.
Costs for overweight and obese individuals were, respectively, 9.9% and 42.7% higher when compared to normal weight adults.
What can be done ?
On a global level the WHO has published a summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity Implementation Plan. This plan provide guidance to countries on the effective actions to curb childhood and adolescent obesity.
The Commission called for governments to provide leadership and for all stakeholders to recognize their responsibility to act on behalf of the child and reduce the risk of obesity.
“No single intervention can halt the advance of the epidemic of obesity. To challenge childhood obesity successfully requires countering the obesogenic environment and addressing vital elements in the life course through coordinated, multisectoral action that is held to account. Interventions to tackle childhood obesity can be integrated into and build upon existing national plans, policies and programmes.”
Key areas of action identified were :
Overall a key message is to implement comprehensive programmes that promote the intake of healthy foods and recuse the intake of unhealthy foods and sugar -sweetened beverages by children and adolescents.
Recommendations to fulfil this action include:
- Implement an effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Implement the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children1 to reduce the exposure of children and adolescents to, and the power of, the marketing of unhealthy foods.
- Require settings such as schools, child-care settings, children’s sports facilities and events to create healthy food environments.
- Ensure food education and understanding are incorporated into the curriculum in formal child-care settings or institutions.
- Improve the nutrition literacy and skills of parents and carers.
- Make food preparation classes available to children, their parents and carers.
Prof Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Beckett University added: “It’s really not about getting the child to lose weight, it’s about changing their behaviour and then in time their weight will change.”
Governments bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring their citizens have a healthy start in life.
Minister Harris announced in the Budget, the sugar tax on fizzy drinks is aimed at reducing our consumption of high calorie drinks which are fuelling our rates of obesity.
The tiered tax, which comes into effect in April and is expected to raise €40m in a full year, will apply at 30c a litre for drinks with over 8g of sugar per 100ml.
There will be a 20c per litre tax for drinks with sugar content of between 5g and 8g per 100ml.
The tax on fizzy drinks will push up the cost of a two-litre bottle of Coca Cola from €2.40 to €3.
Soft drinks including Red Bull, Fanta and Pepsi, which all have substantial sugar content, are all in line for a price increase.
Diet drinks are free from tax.
Researchers are warning that while rates have plateaued in high income countries like Ireland, they are still unacceptably high.
To tackle this childhood obesity epidemic we need a holistic, multi-layered approach including education, exercise and tougher advertising rules.