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Forty-One Million Preschoolers Worldwide Are Obese Or Overweight: WHO Panel Calls For Sugar Tax To Fight Childhood Obesity

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The number of obese or overweight kids under age 5 around the world has ballooned to 41 million from 31 million in 1990, based on data recently released by the World Health Organization.

The latest figures meant that 6.1 percent of children under 5 were obese or overweight in 2014, a jump from 4.8 percent in 1990.

In addition, rates of overweight kids in lower middle-income nations doubled over the same period, jumping from 7.5 million to 15.5 million. Of all obese or overweight kids under five in 2014, a whopping 48 percent lived in Asia while a quarter resided in Africa.

Published by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, the report criticized the “slow and inconsistent” progress in solving the problem, and urged greater political commitment to combat child obesity.

Commission co-chair Peter Gluckman lamented that obesity in this segment of the global population has become “an exploding nightmare” among developing nations.

“It’s not the kids’ fault. You can’t blame a two-year-old child for being fat and lazy and eating too much,” Gluckman said, with the report pointing to changing food affordability and marketing as well as the decline in physical activity as culprits behind energy imbalance in kids.

The authors said that tackling child obesity should begin before a child’s birth, focusing from maternal health to adolescence. Children are being raised in environments that encourage weight gain and obesity, they warned.

The commission also backed a tax on sugary drinks and food products which has already been put in place in Mexico and proposed in other parts of the world.

An official report stated that the National Health Service in the United Kingdom could save nearly 80,000 lives in a given generation by controlling sugar in diet. Today, children and teens are consuming an estimated three times the recommended sugar levels, with adults faring nearly as badly.

Public Health England has recommended a 10 to 20 percent tax, but also suggested other solutions such as cutting price promotions of sugary products, banning high-sugar products from supermarket till and end-of-aisle areas, and cracking down on TV and online advertising of such sugary items.

Similar taxes have been implemented in five other nations, with some measured decreasing soda intake by up to 25 percent. In its first year in Mexico, a sugar tax on fizzy drinks reduced sales by 12 percent.

The commission – established in 2014 and coordinating with over 100 WHO member nations – called for increased physical activity and nutrition literary in schools, as well as the banning of sugary drinks and unhealthy food products in such environments.

“[We call] for governments to take leadership and for all stakeholders to recognize their moral responsibility in acting on behalf of the child,” the report stated.

Photo: Dennis Brekke | Flickr

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