Obesity and childhood and youth overweight in the international spotlight

Obesity and childhood and youth overweight in the international spotlight

From the figures extracted from the Ministries of Health and Social Development of different countries, as well as world health organizations such as “World Health Organization”, the following map has been made, which shows the percentage of overweight and obesity in countries such as the United States, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Angola, France, United Kingdom, Russia, China, Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia. In this way, an overview of these indices can be obtained as well as identifying the key countries. 

Thanks to this map of figures, you can see how obesity and overweight are increasing more and more in developed countries, showing how prevention policies, linked to programs to increase the practice of physical activity and promote a healthy lifestyle, are not being effective in many territories.

One of the main factors that influence the increase of overweight and childhood obesity is the change in leisure habits since it has gone from outdoor activities to the fact that children occupy most of their time watching television or using electronic devices. In Spain, for example, 75% of children and young people between 2 and 17 years of age spend more than one hour of their free time on the screen, as confirmed by the "National Health Survey 2017". Through this same source, it has been possible to extract that overweight and obesity have increased from 1987 until now. The percentage of children between two and seventeen who were overweight in 1987 was 24.0% in boys and 21.9% in girls, while in 2017 it increased to 28.7% and 28.4% respectively. In the case of the US, in its “State of Obesity” report, it indicates that 18.5% of children in 2016 suffered from obesity, a percentage that in 1999-2000 was 13.5%. In contrast, there are countries that do not reach 5% obesity, as is the case in Bangladesh, where only 3% of children are in this situation.

Given these data, it is not surprising that those days there are more and more organizations that promote the practice of sports physical activity as prevention of childhood obesity and try to curb the future consequences of a sedentary life. One of the most important organizations working in this area is the WHO (World Health Organization), which in its guide “Assessing and managing children at primary health-care facilities to prevent overweight and obesity in the context of the double burden of malnutrition, “indicates that lifestyle changes, which include unhealthy diets and a reduction in physical activity, are affecting the health status of children as well as adults. The WHO recommends a minimum hour of moderate physical exercise per day, a measure that is not met in most of the countries represented, for example, in the study "Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport 2017", which states that only 19% of children in Australia between 5 and 17 years old comply with the WHO recommendation to perform at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and warns that the increase in leisure time in front of the screen is contributing to this downtime trend. In addition, it indicates that in Australia children between 7 and 9 years of age watch television or use electronic devices for at least 2 hours a day, a figure that increases in adolescents between 15 and 17 years, to 3 hours.

Another organization that should be highlighted today in this area is the "Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance", which has been working with several countries since 2014 with the aim of improving the development of physical activity in children and young people. For which, each country makes a report based on different published studies, measuring global physical activity, participation in organized sport, active play outside of school, active transport, sedentary behavior, family environment, schools, the community and the urban environment. In addition, data on government strategies and their promotion policies are also obtained. This sharing (49 countries participated in the last report) makes it possible to make a comparison between them and at the same time be aware of new trends in the lifestyle of children and adolescents, as well as adopt new strategies to prevent health problems at the cognitive, physical, social and mental level. In the latest report, "Matrix 3.0", in global trends, the increase in leisure time in front of the screen and the use of electronic devices is contributing significantly to an inactive generation by ratifying the statement presented above.

It is for this reason, a global need and priority to develop new strategies to influence and improve nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of obesity in children and young people. Below you can see a table with the most important indicators and results of the last report mentioned above, where the data of some of the countries represented on the initial map appear, with the aim of observing the relationship between obesity and physical activity.

Among the countries presented, Finland can be highlighted with very positive data in different areas. These good results are due to programs and good actions being carried out by the Finnish government, which launched the “Move” program in 2010, with the aim of increasing the participation of its children and youth population in sports activities and increase activity in school. The government is promoting the welfare of children and adolescents through the realization of a daily hour of physical activity, at least, to schools, among other actions within the program. This began in 2010 with a pilot project in 45 schools and, currently, there are 1,833 registered schools, each of which presents different methodologies and plans to meet the objectives, depending on its resources and needs.

Given that there are good examples and strategies at European level obtaining positive results, it is essential to have even more influence on strategies to preserve the future health of children and young people who are future citizens, to end sedentary life.