According to WHO figures, the global prevalence of overweight and obesity among children has increased by 47.1% since 1980, and by 27.5% among adults.
“The obesity epidemic has the potential to negate many of the health benefits that have contributed to the increased longevity observed in the developed world,” it said.
An interim report from the WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) says there is no single intervention that can reverse childhood obesity, and instead outlines combined policies to develop an overall strategy. The report suggests intervention is needed even before conception “to reduce the exposure of the pregnant woman, infant, child and adolescent to an obesogenic environment”.
The WHO calls for a multi-stakeholder approach and says the challenge requires transparency between governments, the private sector and civil society. However, it says governments have the essential role in addressing obesity and providing appropriate regulation.
When it comes to marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children, the WHO says there is unequivocal evidence that it is related to childhood obesity – and that industry’s voluntary efforts suggest the need for change is widely agreed.
“Any attempt to tackle childhood obesity should, therefore, include a reduction in exposure of children to, and the power of, marketing,” it said.
“…Given the wide variation in attitudes and behaviour within the food and non-alcoholic beverage and marketing industries, voluntary initiatives are likely insufficient, as compliant companies will be at a disadvantage to non-compliant entities.”
The report also says there is good evidence to suggest that taxation can influence consumption.
“The available evidence makes a case for applying this approach to products such as sugar-sweetened non-alcoholic beverages and energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods,” it said. “Debate continues about the priority that should be given to taxation measures in terms of feasibility, and whether the societally positive effects are sufficient to offset the potential regressive effects on low-income consumers.”
The report is open for comment until June 2015 via this link.