"The key to preventing obesity is to act early, ideally even before a baby is conceived" - the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on the occasion of World Obesity Day 2022.
The UN health agency highlighted the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy and exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months and continued breastfeeding until 2 years and beyond to improve the health of infants and young children.
For prevention of childhood obesity, WHO urged countries to adopt effective steps such as restricting the marketing to children of food and drinks high in fats, sugar and salt, taxing sugary drinks, while providing better access to affordable, healthy food.
Moreover, it said, "cities and towns need to make space for safe walking, cycling, and recreation, and schools need to help households teach children healthy habits from early on."
More than 1 billion people worldwide are obese
According to WHO, over 1 billion people worldwide are living with obesity, including 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents and 39 million children. This number is still increasing, and the organisation estimated that by 2025, approximately 167 million people (adults and children) will become less healthy because they are overweight or obese.
"Obesity is a disease impacting most body systems. It affects the heart, liver, kidneys, joints, and reproductive system. It leads to a range of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, various forms of cancer, as well as mental health issues. People with obesity are also three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19," WHO noted in its release issued on World Obesity Day 2022.
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Hence, WHO is urging countries to do more to reverse this predictable and preventable health crisis.
Some facts about overweight and obesity
Overweight or obesity is abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2).
For adults, a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is defined as overweight; and a BMI greater than or equal to 30 as obesity.
However, age needs to be considered when defining overweight and obesity in children.
According to WHO, the worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 rose dramatically from just 4 per cent in 1975 to just over 18 per cent in 2016. More than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were estimated to be overweight or obese in 2016.
The WHO estimates showed that 38.2 million children under the age of 5 years were overweight or obese in 2019, and almost half of these children lived in Asia.
An energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended is the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight. Globally, people are consuming more foods high in fat and sugars and doing less physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.
But overweight and obesity, as well as their related noncommunicable diseases can be prevented by making healthier food choices and regular physical activity.