Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

Why does childhood overweight and obesity matter?

Consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle during childhood

Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability in adulthood. Overweight and obese children are more likely to stay obese into adulthood and to develop noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. For most NCDs resulting from obesity, the risks depend partly on the age of onset and on the duration of obesity. Obese children and adolescents suffer from both short-term and long-term health consequences.

The most significant health consequences of childhood overweight and obesity, that often do not become apparent until adulthood, include:

  • cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke);
  • diabetes;
  • musculoskeletal disorders, especially osteoarthritis; and
  • certain types of cancer (endometrial, breast and colon).

At least 2.6 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese.

Double Burden: a serious risk

Many low- and middle-income countries are now facing a "double burden" of disease: as they continue to struggle with the problems of infectious diseases and under-nutrition; at the same time they are experiencing a rapid increase in risk factors of NCDs such as obesity and overweight, particularly in urban settings.

It is not uncommon to find under-nutrition and obesity existing side-by-side within the same country, the same community and even within the same household in these settings.

This double burden is caused by inadequate pre-natal, infant and child nutrition which is then followed by exposure to high-fat, energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and a lack of physical activity as the child grows older.

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