A shocking new report has revealed that 10 per cent of children worldwide are overweight or obese.
The findings have prompted a health expert to call for urgent action to tackle the escalating obesity problem.
“The time for action is now,” said Professor Ricardo Uauy, chair of public health nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We are facing an epidemic in children and it is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Professor Uauy, an editor of a new report on childhood obesity, also called for a global strategy to stem the rising number of obese children everywhere.
Although it is most severe in the United States - where the number of obese children aged five to 17 is 10 percent and more than 30 percent are overweight - numbers are also rising in Europe.
Ten to 20 percent of children in northern Europe are now classed as overweight, while in southern Europe the numbers increase to 20-35 per cent.
The report identified social trends that have contributed to the problem and called for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help develop strategies to prevent childhood obesity.
It would include efforts to improve maternal nutrition and to promote breast feeding, to encourage schools to teach children how to eat better, to provide clear nutrition information to consumers and safe play facilities in local neighbourhoods.
Changes in diet, a decrease in physical activity and too much time spent in front of computer or television screens have been blamed for the growing number of overweight children.
Obesity increases a child’s risk of suffering diabetes and, later in life, of developing heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.
“A global strategy means keeping children active at school and at play and making sure that foods that are energy-dense be limited. We cannot have high-energy food so that a child in 15 minutes will eat 80 percent of his calories for the day,” Professor Uauy said.
“In some countries, over the past decade, the figure has tripled. I think it is never too late but it is time we start getting serious about doing something about it.”
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD