Many parts of the world are facing a “double burden” of malnutrition, where under-nutrition co-exists with overweight and obesity within the same country, the same community and even the same household.
This state of affairs has been highlighted in the World Health Statistics report of 2018 which monitors the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs].
The SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations. The broad goals are inter-related though each has its own targets to achieve. The total number of targets is 169 and the SDGs cover a broad range of social and economic development issues.
According to the report, obesity in childhood and adolescence is associated with a higher risk of adult obesity, and with premature death and disability due to non-communicable diseases [NCDs] such as coronary heart disease in adulthood.
In addition to such increased future risks, obese children can also experience hypertension, diabetes, asthma and other respiratory problems, sleep disorders, liver disease and psychological problems such as low self-esteem.
Moreover, the SDG Target 2.2 commits the world to ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including overweight and obesity, while SDG Target 3.4 is to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030, including through prevention efforts.
Pointed out in the report is the fact that as a leading risk factor for NCDs later in life, preventing adolescent overweight and obesity is a pivotal global health objective, not only in its own right but also as a crucial element in the prevention of NCDs.
Moreover, global monitoring of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5–19 years Body Mass Index (BMI), defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in metres (kg/m2 ), is a simple index commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in children, adolescents and adults.
Childhood and adolescence are times of rapid growth, and a healthy BMI depends on both the age and sex of the individual.
According to the report, the world has seen a more than 10-fold increase in the number of obese children and adolescents aged 5-19 years in the past four decades – from just 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.
An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity. “Taken together, this means that in 2016, almost 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 years – or almost one in every five (18.4 percent) – were overweight or obese globally,” according to WHO statistics.
In fact, it has been pointed out that an analysis of these trends has shown that although population growth has played a role in the increase in numbers of obese children and adolescents, the primary driver has been an increase in the prevalence of obesity.
Globally, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 years increased from 0.8 percent in 1975 to 6.8 percent in 2016.
It was revealed, that although high-income countries continue to have the highest prevalence, the rate at which obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 years is increasing is much faster in low and middle-income countries [LMIC].
“The increases observed in the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 years in LMIC have occurred at the same time as issues of under-nutrition remain unaddressed. Infants and children in these countries are more vulnerable to inadequate prenatal, infant and young child nutrition than those in other countries,” the WHO statistics has been able to ascertain.
In this regard, they are at high risk of being affected simultaneously by stunted growth and overweight due to the consumption of nutrient-poor but energy-dense foods.
At individual country level, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 years in a number of LMIC had reached alarmingly high levels by 2016, according to the report. The report adds too, “This stands in stark contrast to the situation in several high income countries with relatively low prevalence, including Japan in which the national prevalence was half the global prevalence.”
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