Africa facing a childhood obesity crisis

The continent which is more often linked to malnutrition and under-eating is facing an equally as dangerous problem on the other end of the weight spectrum.

According to a new report on childhood obesity from the World Health Organization (WHO), a quarter (25%) of all overweight or obese children are in Africa.

In 2014, it is estimated that 41 million children under 5 years of age were affected by being overweight or obese – and in Africa, the number has nearly doubled since 1990, increasing from 5.4 million to 10.3 million.

When taking Asia into account, the two regions account for almost 50% – in absolute numbers, more overweight and obese children live in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

However, the prevalence of childhood obesity still remains higher in high-income regions.

Many countries – including South Africa – face the burden of malnutrition in all its forms, with rising rates of childhood obesity as well as high rates of child undernutrition and stunting.

Childhood obesity is often underrecognized as a public health issue in these settings, where, culturally, an overweight child is often to be healthy, the WHO said.

The most recent statistics show that one in four South Africans are obese – with researchers from the North West University stating that South African children are among the fattest in the world.

Take on the sugar problem

SA children’s health is negatively influenced by a diet that lacks diversity, as well as the rise of sedentary living. Children in the country are also exposed to high salt and sugar content in foods, which exacerbates these conditions.

The WHO said that 81% of adolescents do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

The group recommended that countries develop context-specific nutrition guidelines and make them accessible to society at large – and that it take on the global sugar problem implementing an effective tax on sugary-drinks.

In South Africa, government is already mulling a 20% sugar tax to combat the growing problem.

Further the WHO says that governments should limit children and adolescents’ exposure to marketing of unhealthy foods, and promote more physical activity – particularly in schools.

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Africa facing a childhood obesity crisis