Monday, the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which is part of the World Health Organization, released a report saying that worldwide, an astounding 41 million children under the age of 5 are now obese or overweight. That number has risen significantly from 1990, when it was estimated 31 million kids had a serious weight problem.
As a result of this finding, the independent panel is urging governments, educators, agribusiness, and food marketers to take responsibility for their part in ending the childhood obesity epidemic. Specifically, the panel is pushing for "effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages" and wants school policies to promote a healthy diet and exercise.
Parents also have to own up to their role in their children's health. As the commission's co-chair Peter Gluckman commented, "It's not the kids' fault. You can't blame a 2-year-old child for being fat and lazy and eating too much."
Strong words, but the fact that so many children worldwide are not getting enough exercise, and are eating processed foods loaded with sugar and fat is a very serious problem. Lifelong health problems can stem from living at an unhealthy weight; diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are just a few diseases for which obesity ups one's risk. It's heartbreaking to think so many kids are facing such a bleak future.
I think it's about education, and making sure parents know what foods are going to nourish their children, instead of essentially poison them. But of course it's an economic problem as well. It's frightening that a Happy Meal at McDonald's costs far less than fresh, organic produce. The problem is so huge, and so daunting, it would be easy to give up due to frustration. But we simply can't; our children's lives depend on us continuing to fight this epidemic.
As parents, the best thing we can do in our own homes is think about what foods we are buying to feed our families, and to ensure our children are getting enough physical activity. It's also about leading by example; that's right moms, we have to put down the Doritos, too!
What do you think can be done to positively impact the obesity crisis here and around the world?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.