Samoan children twice as likely to be overweight than in region

Samoa’s children are more overweight than the regional average, according to the latest international report on children, food and nutrition.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) reports more children than not are eating poorly, and that is undermining their learning and growing capacity.

Globally, one in three children under five years old is growing poorly because of malnutrition in visible forms, while one in two children suffer from “hidden hunger:” deficiencies in vitamins and nutrients.

In Samoa, five per cent of pre-schoolers and 53 per cent of school aged children are overweight. 

That is just one percentage point less than the regional (East Asia and the Pacific) average for pre-schoolers but nearly twice that for school aged children (23 per cent in the region).

Globally, 18 per cent of school children are overweight, and this has serious health consequences in a myriad of areas.

“In childhood, [it] can lead to a number of medical conditions, including gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal and orthopaedic complications, as well as the early onset of type 2 diabetes and behavioural and emotional problems, including depression and stigmatization. 

 “Childhood obesity is also a strong predictor of adult obesity, which can have serious health and economic consequences.”

 It can also have serious consequences for pregnant women, including gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, obstetric complications and overweight and chronic disease for the child in later life. 

 “Overweight, long thought of as a condition of the wealthy, is now increasingly a condition of the poor,

reflecting the greater availability of ‘cheap calories’ from fatty and sugary foods in almost every country in the world,” the report states.

“Analysis carried out as part of the Global Burden of Disease study suggests that diets lacking adequate nutrition are now the leading cause of death worldwide.”

This issue is projected to get worse for the under-five-year-old group.

“Based on recent trends, the number of overweight under-5s will rise from 40 million children to 43 million by 2025,” the report states.

“Estimates for older children help indicate the true scale of the overweight challenge. 

According to the N.C.D. Risk Factor Collaboration, the proportion of overweight children aged between 5 and 19 rose from around 1 in 10 (10.3 per cent) in 2000 to a little under 1 in 5 (18.4 per cent) in 2016

 The report says food options are critical to mitigating high rates of child overweight, stating that marketing of sugary beverages and unhealthy foods are “directly linked” to  the growing rates of overweight and obese children. 

 There are also many “food desserts,” places without healthy food options, and “food swamps,” places with too many unhealthy options that under-price the healthier choice.

U.N.I.C.E.F. points to three areas where children are “not growing well:” that they are stunted, wasted, or overweight.

Stunted refers to children who are too short for their age as a result of not developing well, physically and mentally, and especially in their first 1000 days, while wasting refers to a child too thin for their height. 

“Stunting has been described as not just the “best overall indicator” of children’s well-being, but also an “accurate reflection” of inequality in societies,” the report states.

“With important exceptions, [wasting] often reflects a recent loss of weight arising from severely poor nutrient intake, illness or both.”

And 17.2 per cent of children who are not growing well live in East Asia and the Pacific, the report states.

Most countries are not meeting international 2030 targets on child nutrition, especially regarding overweight children.

The World Health Assembly (W.H.A) intends to reduce and maintain childhood overweight to less than three per cent, but it is currently at 5.9 per cent and is projected to reach 6.7 per cent by 2030.

The report is the latest edition of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children reports. Previous editions have covered the digital world, child’s rights, equality, children with disabilities and the urban environment’s effects on children.

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