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Have your say on World Health Organisation childhood obesity report

By Jak Phillips    23 Mar 2015
The report highlights that childhood obesity is no longer just a Western issue / Shutterstock.com

Physical activity experts and other relevant stakeholders are being asked to submit their views on a World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation into ending childhood obesity.

Having been set up during the 2014 World Health Assembly by WHO director-general Margaret Chan, the Commission’s Interim Report on Ending Childhood Obesity opened for online consultation last week.

Intended to promote consultation rather than be a definitive paper, the report highlights that obesity is no longer just a Western issue, with rapid rises occurring in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). An estimated 42m children worldwide were affected by overweight or obesity in 2013. In Africa, the estimated prevalence rate of child overweight and obesity of 8.5 per cent in 2010 (or 12m children) is projected to increase to 12.7 per cent by 2020.

“It has become clear that a multisectoral approach to preventing obesity is needed,” notes the report, authored by 15 leading health experts from a variety of relevant backgrounds.

“Addressing the challenge of childhood obesity through integrated actions across different sectors and levels of society, including government, the private sector and civil society, will prove more effective than any stand-alone measure…. Effective interventions are likely to have long-term financial and wider benefits.”

Policy options put forward for overcoming obesity include embedding physical activity into every stage of a child’s life, from pregnancy through to adulthood. Strategic objective 1b for the report is to “Reduce sedentary behaviour and promote healthy living through physical activity in children and adolescents.”

The report notes that low physical activity is fast becoming the social norm in most countries, and is “an important driver of the obesity epidemic.” It states that physical activity declines from the age of school entry, with less than 20 per cent of the global population meeting WHO physical activity guidelines by the age of 13-15 years.

Policy options for how to boost physical activity include sustained investment in education and social marketing programmes with the aim of outlining healthy lifestyle guidelines and replacing the current unhealthy lifestyle norm with more healthy physical activity.

There are also suggestions for:

• The creation of safe, gender-friendly, physical activity-friendly communities, which encourage the use of active transport (walking, cycling etc.).

• Improving access to natural spaces, places and facilities for active living and encourage participation in physical activities, with special consideration given to gender-constraints where these are applicable.

• Ensuring that physical activity is included in the school curriculum and providing adequate facilities to support this.

• Ensuring adequate facilities are available on school premises for physical activity during recreational time for all children, including the provision of gender-friendly spaces where these are appropriate.

The Interim Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity is now open for comment from relevant stakeholders. In addition, the Commission will hold regional consultations and hearings throughout this consultative period. To submit your views, click here.

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