NEW DELHI: Childhood obesity is reaching alarming proportions with India reporting around 22% prevalence rate over the last 5 years in children and adolescents aged between 5-19 years.
A new report by a commission formed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified "marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages" as a major factor in the increase in numbers of children being overweight and obese, particularly in the developing world.
Raising concerns about the rise of adult diseases in youth, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis, the report highlights the effect of obesity on a child's immediate health, educational attainment and quality of life. "It is important to address the problem of obesity and overweight at school level itself because otherwise it can lead to disease burden which will continue into adulthood," says Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis CDOC hospital for diabetes and allied specialities.
Globally, the trend is high among children under five years of age with at least 41 million found to be obese or overweight in 2014. While the prevalence rate of obesity in this age group is still low in India at less than 5%, the WHO report suggests it is rising at the fastest pace among all developing countries. Between 1990 and 2014, the number of overweight children in low and middle-income countries has more than doubled from 7.5 million to 15.5 million. In 2014, almost half (48%) of all overweight and obese children under 5 years age lived in Asia and one-quarter (25%) in Africa.
According to the report, in poorer countries, children of wealthier families are more likely to be obese, especially in cultures where "an overweight child is often considered to be healthy." However, in wealthier countries, poorer children are more likely to be obese partly because of the affordability of fatty fast food and high sugary snacks.
According to Dr Misra, in India there is also a wide divide between children in urban and rural areas. While food habits are poor in urban areas leading to high prevalence rate, in rural India there is a lack of reporting mechanism to gauge the real situation.
The report has made a host of recommendations to reverse the trend. This includes promoting intake of healthy foods, promoting physical activity, preconception and pregnancy care among others.
The WHO director-general Margaret Chan said, "Implementing the report's recommendations will take political will and courage, as some go against the interests of powerful economic operators."