Childhood obesity – a global health crisis

April 24th 2014

Adam Reekie

Adam Reekie

Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic that is not just affecting adolescents and adults but children as well. Behavioural factors play a larger role in this increase, with a number of children eating more, or consuming large amounts of food high in fat, sugar and salt. In short, there’s an imbalance between calories consumed and calories uses.

For years, health advisors have worked hard to raise awareness of the negative health impact this insidious appetite for foods high in fat, sugar and salt has on our lives.  Although this problem affects all age groups and has done so for many years, lately we have seen an increased prevalence of obesity in young children. Our latest figures show that in the UK 31% of boys and 28% of girls aged 2 – 15 are classed as being either overweight or obese[1]. Moreover, the problem is global: in 2010 it was estimated that over 42 million children under five are overweight[2]. These are worrying statistics, symptomatic of an average diet now synonymous with Western culture.

© Public Health England 2014  Prevalence of overweight and obesity by school year. Source : http://goo.gl/XIrRM7

© Public Health England 2014
Prevalence of overweight and obesity by school year. Source : http://goo.gl/XIrRM7

Being overweight has many impacts on our health. This can be even more detrimental when it starts at a young age. The high sugar diet that many children in Europe are now indulging in is a leading cause of diabetes and other medical conditions that relate to obesity later in life. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults and are therefore at risk of having a reduced life expectancy. The longer medical conditions are present, the greater the risk of complications and associated morbidity, resulting in more days away from education and work.

© Public Health England 2014  Distribution of BMI for Reception children (aged 4-5 years) 2010/11, compared to the 1990 baseline population. Source: http://goo.gl/XIrRM7

© Public Health England 2014
Distribution of BMI for Reception children (aged 4-5 years) 2010/11, compared to the 1990 baseline population. Source: http://goo.gl/XIrRM7

We can turn this around however by introducing a healthy, balanced diet. Eating more fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts; and eating fewer foods high in fat, sugar and salt is an excellent way to start. These are also key elements of a sustainable diet. So, it seems that if children have more vegetables and fruit in their diet, combined with a daily bout of physical exercise, it will not only reduce obesity and therefore the risk of medical conditions linked to it later in life; this dietary change will also help increase the consumption of sustainable crops which is in turn good for the environment.

There needs to be a drastic change within the current food culture. Taking a holistic approach to our children’s diets, inclusive of physical activity, nutritional and environmental education, is essential. With a real drive to consume sustainable food such as fruit and vegetables, and reducing the amount of meat and sugary foods we eat, we can improve our children’s lives and reduce our food footprint on the planet.

Adam Reekie

ICUH Digital Marketing and Social Media Specialist

Adam Reekie started as a Research Assistant in early 2013 with a strong background in policy making and a particular interest in Law and how policy affects the healthcare system. Adam focused his interest within the Manchester Urban Collaboration on Health (MUCH) department and has since facilitated national policy maker interviews to establish changes within the NHS and the emergence of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). His future interests lie in promoting the public health theme through conferences and will be taking the reins on all the digital marketing and social media within the MUCH team as well as playing key roles in upcoming European Commission research projects.

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