What is Happening to Our World's Children?

Obesity in young children is a recent worldwide epidemic

Parents may want to rethink what they feed their children.

Obesity in children younger than 5 has increased at an alarming rate since 1990, according to the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) commission report. The number of children who were considered obese or overweight in 1990 was 31 million. By 2014, it was 41 million.

A study conducted to help understand the increase in the number of obese or overweight children involved two years of research in more than 100 countries.

Asia, as of 2014, accounted for 48 percent of the world's children considered obese or overweight. Additionally, authors of the study found that the number of Africa's children younger than 5 who are obese or overweight has doubled from 1990 to 2014. In 1990, the number of obese children in Africa was 5.4 million. By 2014, the number was 10.3 million. 

The alarming numbers, the commission reported, are a result of the lack of strategies implemented around the world with an aim to promote healthy lifestyles. Because of this, "progress in tackling childhood obesity has been slow and inconsistent," the report said.

The ECHO report said that biological factors, limited access to healthy foods, and low physical activity in schools has been some of the major influences in childhood obesity.

Lower income families are also at a disadvantage because of not being able to afford healthy foods and being overly exposed to foods filled with fats and sugar. Lower middle-income countries doubled in the number of obese or overweight children from 1990 to 2014. In 1990, the number of obese children was 7.5 million. By 2014, it was 15.5 million.

Conversely, wealthier families in poorer countries see overweight children as a sign of health, explaining an increase in those countries as well.

While obesity is a worldwide problem, children in developing countries such as Asia and Africa are being raised in environments that encourage obesity in children, according to the ECHO commission.

In order to promote a healthy lifestyle early on in a child's life, it all starts in the womb. The authors of the report said that a mother planning to get pregnant should take healthy measures before, during, and after pregnancy. 

If a mother enters pregnancy overweight or diabetic, she "predisposes the child to increased fat deposits associaed with metabolic disease and obesity," according to the report.  

The ECHO report included 6 recommendations to help lower childhood obesity: promote eating healthy foods, exercise, preconception and pregnancy care, early childhood diets and exercise, health and nutrition for school-aged children, and weight management. More details about each recommendation are on the ECHO report.