The rate of childhood obesity is set to double by the end of the decade, says new forecasts by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), and is due in part to "historic food policies which have led to distorted food supplies and prices."
The alarming figures on childhood obesity, presented by the IOTF at the McGill Integrative Health Challenge Think Tank in Montreal this week, estimate that by 2010 almost 287 million kids will be obese, and the overall obese population could rise to 700 million by 2015.
The overall number of overweight people worldwide could top two billion, said the task force - without taking account a lower overweight threshold set for Asians.
Professor Philip James, chair of the IOTF and the Presidential Council of the Alliance, said: "The rapid deterioration in diet and weight-related health is already becoming very obvious. One in three people born in the USA today is expected to develop type 2 diabetes, and the rest of the world is heading in the same direction."
The IOTF presented a new report to the think tank, "Global strategies to prevent childhood obesity: Forming a societal plan that works", which called for a multi-sector approach, encompassing food and beverage industries, economists and government.
"Food and drink companies originally advanced by the three traditional methods competition on price, the ready availability of their products, and by promotional marketing," states the report. "Thus standardizing production, increasing portion sizes, targeting children and now penetrating the huge opportunities of the developing world markets, have been and remain priorities for major national and international food and drink companies as well as other commercial enterprises."
Prof. James welcomed the report, which calls for removal of subsidies from oil, fats and sugars, and push fruit and vegetables production should to encourage consumption.
Ten immediate measures, including changes to pricing availability and trade, are needed to halt the "cataclysmic slide," said the report: Labelling The report calls for the introduction of the traffic light nutrition labels, based on WHO targets for fats, sugar and salt.
Marketing Children should be protected from marketing of unhealthy products from TV, Internet, in-school promotions, and so on. Government is responsible to ensure compliance.
Trade Trade distortions that favour sugar and fat over-production should be removed, and fruit and vegetable production should be promoted. Western agricultural subsidy regimes should be dismantled.
Pricing Pricing should favour fruit and vegetable consumption, and discourage high fat and sugar foods. Prices should be increased to discourage consumption of these high fatty sugary and salty (HFSS) foods.
Quality Control Government should apply nutritional and activity standards in premises for children, like nurseries and schools. Businesses could also promote such measures.
Availability Fast food/ soft drink outlets should be restricted by government, particularly near schools. Availability of fruit and vegetables should be increased.
Distribution Governments should follow Norways lead of ensuring remote rural communities receive healthier products at affordable prices.
Farm Policies "Governments need to change agricultural policies to sustain and promote production for improved diets," states the report.
Planning Physical activity should be promoted by the building of open spaces, walking and cycling zones.
Cross Government/ Business Pro-Health Policy Making "This demands transparent mechanisms for driving inter-sectoral collaboration and requires the effective use of health impact assessments of all types of policy development with identification of the external and consequential costs before decisions are reached," said the report.