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23 October, 2017 10:43:51 AM

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Bangladeshi children becoming victims of obesity

We should aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods available in the market
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Bangladeshi children becoming victims of obesity

A new study, led by the Imperial College London and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) established experts apprehends  that Bangladesh is now facing the “dual burden” of both malnutrition and obesity of the children. The study suggests blaming food marketing, policies, and pricing that like many other developing countries more children and teenagers in Bangladesh are now obese than before.

This defies the traditional and usual view that Bangladesh is known for the home of one of the largest number of underweight children in the world. The reason is that, of late, in Bangladesh the fast food market is mostly unregulated with no government policy to control pricing and advertisements giving the way of new global chains in the market. This year 2017 two burger chains of the US – Burger King and Johnny Rockets – have opened its outlets in Dhaka. The study was published in the British medical journal the ‘Lancet' on 10 October, 2017 afternoon Mexico time ahead of the World Obesity Day on 11 October, 2017. The study indicates the rise in obesity rates in low and middle income countries, especially in Asia, has "recently accelerated". In high income countries the rise, however, has been "slowed and plateaued". It is regarded as the first ever comprehensive data on underweight through to obesity for children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years olds. From 1975 to 2016, the study calculated and compared body mass index (BMI) among children, adolescents and adults. And then it made projections based on current trends in obesity rates among them. The BMI is a measure of a person's weight and body fat mass for their height, and indicates whether their weight is healthy.

 

The obesity among boys in Bangladesh was found 3 percent in 2016 which was only 0.03 percent in 1975. The rate jumped to 2.3 percent among girls from almost nil four decades ago from now. Action to curb obesity is a key element of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs target 2.2 percent commits the world to ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including overweight and obesity. The SDGs target 3.4 percent commits the world to reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one-third by 2030, including through prevention of obesity. Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial's School of Public Health, the study's lead author, described the trends as “worrying”.

A statement quoted Ezzati saying that the trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities. The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. Ezzati said that "We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods”. The report predicts more obese than underweight 5 to 19 year olds by 2022 but underweight persists in poor regions. The authors say that global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth from the same age group by 2022 if post-2000 trends continue.

The global number of moderately or severely underweight girls and boys was 75 million and 117 million respectively in 2016. The authors say, however, especially in the poorest parts of the world, the large number of moderately or severely underweight children and adolescents in 2016 – 75 million girls and 117 million boys – still represents a major public health challenge. This reflects the threat posed by malnutrition in all its forms, with there being underweight and overweight young people living in the same communities. In many middle-income countries, including in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, children and adolescents have rapidly transitioned from mostly underweight to mostly overweight. The authors say that this could reflect an increase in the consumption of energy-dense foods, especially highly processed carbohydrates. Such foods lead to weight gain and poor lifelong health outcomes.

Programme coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of NCDs at WHO, Dr. Fiona Bull, said that these data highlight, remind and reinforce that overweight and obesity is a global health crisis today. And this threatens to worsen in coming years unless we start taking drastic action to prevent it right now. In conjunction with the release on the new obesity estimates, World Health Organization is publishing a summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan that gives world countries clear guidance on effective actions to curb childhood and adolescent obesity. The WHO has also released guidelines calling on frontline health care workers to actively identify and manage children who are overweight or obese. Dr Bull said that WHO encourages countries to implement efforts to address the environments that today are increasing our children's chance of obesity.

World countries should aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods available in the market. They should also reduce the time children spend on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities by promoting greater participation in physical activity through active recreation and sports. Mexico's steps to prevent and control NCDs have come to the fore ahead of the 48th Union Conference on Lung Health at Guadalajara from October 11 to 14. Two years back the Latin American country has implemented 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to prevent and control obesity and NCDs. It has implemented separate lanes in many cities in the capital Mexico City and the Guadalajara. Director General of the Mexico's National Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Dr Jesus Felipo Gonzalez told that they had taken "three pillars" policy to fight off NCDs, these are: (i) public health, (ii) healthcare and health regulatory and (iii) fiscal policy.

Mexico City also runs childhood obesity clinic where a young girl, Leticia Martinez Gaytan, said that she felt "very upset" when she was fat. "Now I am taking hospital counselling and I can control my diet. I also do regular exercise," she said, "My goal is to be healthy". Under the public health, Mexico City promotes healthy livings and educates people.

In healthcare they ensure both access and quality, and under the regulatory framework they control labeling, advertising and taxation to discourage consumption. Bangladesh also needs to adopt policies to encourage and implement efforts to address the environments that today are increasing our children's chance of obesity.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General

Education Cadre

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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