All children have the right to a healthy life, which excess weight conditions for the physical and psychological effects it causes. Childhood obesity significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, bone and muscular disease at an early age, as well as depression and a reduced capacity to socialize.
Childhood obesity is increasing at an alarming rate all over the world, especially in medium and low income countries. In Mexico, according to the 2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey, 33.2% of the children aged 5 to 11 and 36.3% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 exceed the recommended weight. Around 17.9% of children and 22.4% of adolescents are overweight, while 15.3% of children and 13.9% of adolescents are obese.
Children live in an obesogenic environment, which means that it promotes excessive calorie consumption and low physical activity level; this interacts with their biology and behavior, predisposing them to obesity. Biological factors influence children since fetal development and early childhood, by being exposed to malnutrition at these stages. Gene interaction from both parents with the environment and during pregnancy also affects the child, as well as an inadequate diet for the baby.
Children have no control over these factors, so childhood obesity cannot be taken as a voluntary decision. Government, families and caregivers must promote healthy behaviors. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued the Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. WHO establishes three strategic objectives to reduce the risk of childhood obesity through programs with joint actions, based on the fact that there is no intervention alone that can stop the current obesity epidemic.
The first strategic objective suggests transforming the environment and social norms that predispose children to obesity. These factors include policy (public and fiscal regulation), trade (agreements, food systems and agricultural policy), environment (food availability, physical activity infrastructure), social norms (body image and eating cultural beliefs) and family setting. Recommendations must include healthy eating promotion, discouraging consumption of products high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar or salt, besides practicing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors.
The second objective relies on the reduction of children and adolescents’ obesity risk at fundamental life stages: before and during pregnancy (in both parents), on the breastfeeding period and early childhood, as well as late childhood and adolescence. Recommendations include improving health care for women of childbearing age, during pregnancy and before birth, as well as to promote a healthy diet, sleep patterns and physical activity during early childhood, plus a healthy school environment and teaching health, nutrition, and physical activity to children.
The last strategic objective is to provide treatment to obese children and adolescents, as well as to provide health care for the potential complications they might have. It is important to tackle potential risk factors to successfully reverse obesity.
These measures proposed by WHO are focused on ending childhood obesity not only at short term by giving treatment to obese children and adolescents, but to prevent it at medium and long term on the next generations. This is intended to enable an environment that enhances healthy habits so that children improve their quality of life and life expectancy.
National Institute of Public Health. Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutrición de Medio Camino 2016 Informe Final de Resultados. Available from: http://oment.uanl.mx/descarga/ensanut_mc2016.pdf
World Health Organization. Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204176/1/9789241510066_eng.pdf