Driven by the growing availability of fatty, sugary foods and beverages in low- and middle-income countries, 41 million children age 5 and under are overweight or obese, a number expected to grow to more than 70 million children worldwide during the next decade, a new World Health Organization report says.

Between 1990 and 2014, rates of young children who are overweight or obese have surged to 6.1 percent from 4.8 percent, says the report released Monday. In lower middle-income countries, the number of overweight and obese children younger than 5 has doubled, from 7.5 million to 15.5 million kids.

Almost half of those overweight children – 48 percent – lived in Asia in 2014, and 25 percent lived in Africa.

The report, prepared by the WHO’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, has been two years in the making. The commission called for a “whole-of-government approach” to improve children’s diets and promote physical activity. In addition to promoting breastfeeding for infants and promulgating guidelines for healthful eating, governments should implement an “effective tax on sugar-sweetened beverages” to reduce their consumption by children and adolescents, the report says.

Some countries may also consider levying taxes on “unhealthy foods, such as those high in fats and sugar,” the report says. In schools, at sports events and in screen-based entertainment, the commission recommended that governments limit children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthful foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.


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