The Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Problem That Can’t Wait

By Alan Hoffman, Executive Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Herbalife
March 4, 2016

A new report from the World Health Organization Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO), formed in 2014 to study the problem, paints a grim picture: The prevalence of infant, childhood and adolescent obesity is rising around the world.

Obesity can affect a child’s health, development and quality of life. Children with obesity are very likely to remain obese as adults and are at risk of chronic illness. But what’s driving childhood obesity? With increasing urbanization, many children today are growing up in an environment that promotes weight gain and obesity. According to the ECHO report, an increasing number of children in middle- and low-income countries around the world are consuming more calories than they expend on a daily basis. These children are getting high-calorie/low nutrient foods and replacing exercise with sedentary leisure activities.

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The Sobering Statistics
Progress in tackling childhood obesity has been slow and inconsistent.

  • In 2014, an estimated 41 million children under 5 years of age were affected by overweight or obesity.1
  • 81% of adolescents do not achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day.2
  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.3

Turning the Tide: Six Recommendations
No single intervention can halt the growing obesity epidemic. The ECHO report includes a list of recommendations that call for for governments and other stakeholders to recognize their moral responsibility in acting on behalf of the child to reduce the risk of obesity. The recommendations put an emphasis on taking action in the following areas:

  • Increase intake of healthy foods.
  • Promote physical activity – Implement comprehensive programs that encourage physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviors.
  • Improve preconception and pregnancy care.
  • Encourage healthy early childhood diet and physical activity – Provide guidance on, and support for, healthy diet, sleep and physical activity.
  • Promote health, nutrition and physical activity for school-age children.
  • Create weight management services and education for children and young people who are obese.

At Herbalife, we are focused on overcoming the obesity crisis by:

  • Making good nutrition more accessible.
  • Helping children and families to incorporate positive eating habits.
  • Educating about what it means to live a healthy, active life.

Changing the direction of a public health problem like childhood obesity is a massive undertaking. One way to get started is to increase access to healthy foods in disadvantaged communities. With more than 80,000 nutrition clubs around the world, independent Herbalife members and their customers get daily nutrition, nutrition education and positive reinforcement in a community setting. By educating adults and parents on the benefits of balanced nutrition and a healthy, active life, there’s a stronger likelihood the adults will pass on their good habits to their children.

Nutrition Education
Through the Herbalife Family Foundation, Herbalife and its members are committed to improving the lives of children around the world by supporting charitable organizations that provide nutrition, funding and volunteer assistance. These funds bring nutrition to more than 100,000 children in over 50 countries on a daily basis.

Herbalife is also supporting nutrition literacy and food preparation skills through our partnership with Common Threads, a national non-profit organization that provides hands-on cooking and nutrition education programs. In 2015 and 2016, we anticipate that nearly 80,000 students across eight U.S. cities will learn about the importance of nutrition and physical wellbeing, empowering them to be change agents in their families, schools and communities.

To stay active, our members organize fitness camps that promote daily physical activity in a group setting. And through our company sponsorship of world-class sports teams like the LA Galaxy, we are getting the word out about the role that nutrition and fitness play in maintaining overall health and wellness to multiple generations.

A Whole Society Approach
To put the ECHO report recommendations into practice and combat childhood obesity, society at large needs to get involved. Everyone needs to play a role: government, parents, caregivers, teachers, schools, universities, hospitals, doctors and business. Slowing and reversing the rise of childhood obesity also requires buy-in at the local, state, national and global levels. And although program funding is vital; without consistent community involvement, the likelihood of long-term success is doubtful.

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References

  • WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study Group. WHO child growth standards based on length/height, weight and age. Acta Paediatr. 2006;Suppl 450:76–85.
  • Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010.
  • Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014; 311(8):806-814.