Obesity spreading in Bangladesh children, new study blames junk food

More children and teenagers in Bangladesh are obese now than before like many other developing countries, a new study suggests blaming food marketing, policies, and pricing.

Nurul Islam Hasib from Guadalajara in Mexicobdnews24.com
Published : 11 Oct 2017, 05:53 AM
Updated : 11 Oct 2017, 07:51 AM

Bangladesh is traditionally known for the home of world’s one of the largest number of underweight children.

But a new study, led by the Imperial College London and the World Health Organization or WHO, established experts' apprehension that the country is in fact facing the ‘dual burden’ of both malnutrition and obesity.

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The fast food market is mostly unregulated in Bangladesh with no government policy to control pricing and advertisements giving the way of new global chains in the market.

Two burger chains of the US – Burger King and Johnny Rockets – have opened its outlets in Dhaka this year.

The study published in the British medical journal the Lancet' on Tuesday afternoon Mexico time ahead of World Obesity Day on Wednesday indicates the rise in obesity rates in low and middle income countries, especially in Asia, has “recently accelerated”.

The rise, however, has been “slowed and plateaued” in high income countries.

First comprehensive study

It is regarded as the first ever comprehensive data on underweight through to obesity for children and adolescents aged five to 19 years.

The study calculated and compared body mass index (BMI) among children, adolescents and adults from 1975 to 2016, and made projections based on current trends in obesity rates.

BMI is a measure of a person’s weight and body fat mass for their height, and indicates whether their weight is healthy.

In Bangladesh, the obesity among boys was found 3 percent in 2016 which was only 0.03 percent in 1975. Among girls, the rate jumped to 2.3 percent from almost nil four decades ago.

Action to curb obesity is a key element of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG target 2.2 commits the world to ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030, including overweight and obesity.

SDG target 3.4 commits the world to reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030, including through prevention of obesity.

Food marketing, policies to blame

The study's lead author Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial’s School of Public Health described the trends as 'worrying'.

“[The trends] reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities,” a statement quoted him saying.

“The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes,” Ezzati said.

“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 if post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth from the same age group by 2022.

In 2016, the global number of moderately or severely underweight girls and boys was 75 million and 117 million respectively.

However, the authors say, 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, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

“This reflects the threat posed by malnutrition in all its forms, with there being underweight and overweight young people living in the same communities."

Children and adolescents have rapidly transitioned from mostly underweight to mostly overweight in many middle-income countries, including in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The authors say this could reflect an increase in the consumption of energy-dense foods, especially highly processed carbohydrates, which lead to weight gain and poor lifelong health outcomes.

“These data highlight, remind and reinforce that overweight and obesity is a global health crisis today, and threatens to worsen in coming years unless we start taking drastic action,” Dr. Fiona Bull, programme coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of NCDs at WHO, said.

Solutions exist

In conjunction with the release on the new obesity estimates, WHO is publishing a summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan.

The plan gives countries clear guidance on effective actions to curb childhood and adolescent obesity.

WHO has also released guidelines calling on frontline healthcare workers to actively identify and manage children who are overweight or obese.

“WHO encourages countries to implement efforts to address the environments that today are increasing our children’s chance of obesity,” Dr Bull said.

“Countries should aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods.

“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.”

Mexican experience

Ahead of the 48th Union Conference on Lung Health at Guadalajara from Oct 11 to 14, Mexico’s steps to prevent and control NCDs have come to the fore.

The Latin American country has implemented 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages two years back 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 bdnews24.com they had taken “three pillars” policy to fight off NCDs - public health, healthcare and health regulatory and fiscal policy.

Under the public health, they promote healthy livings and educate people, in healthcare they ensure both access and quality, and under the regulatory framework they control labeling, advertising and taxation to discourage consumption.

Mexico City also runs childhood obesity clinic where bdnews24.com met a young girl, Leticia Martinez Gaytan, who said 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”.