MANILA – Some 17.5 million children under five are suffering from malnutrition in the Asia Pacific region, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.
Those affected have issues related to their development or being overweight owing to the consumption of processed food that is high in saturated fats, trans fats and salt and sugar.
In order to tackle the issue, representatives of the 37 countries that make up the WHO Asia Pacific regional committee, gathered this week in Manila, have agreed on an action plan to mitigate the impact of these products, which are highly publicized by the food industry.
According to the WHO, among the children under five in the region in 2018, 7.7 million are suffering from delayed development – too short for their age – 2.6 million were too skinny for their height and 7.2 million were overweight or obese.
“Processed foods are more available, affordable and accessible than ever due to rapid economic growth, urbanization and globalization,” the WHO said in a statement.
The organization warned that the “marketing of breast-milk substitutes, such as infant formula, and food and drinks high in saturated fats, trans fats, free sugars or salt is widespread.
“This has contributed to a low proportion of babies being breastfed for the past decade, poor diets, overweight and obesity in children, and growing prevalence of diet-related noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes.”
Besides a high number of cases of children who are overweight and obese among children under five, the WHO also warned of “growing prevalence of diet-related noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes.”
In the resolution passed on Thursday, the regional division of the WHO urged member states to limit children’s exposure to the advertising of these foods and minimize their persuasive appeal, as well as eliminate the inappropriate marketing of milk substitutes and other foodstuffs for babies.
They also asked for the governments of 37 countries – from Mongolia to New Zealand – along with small Pacific islands, to strengthen the governance and regulation of laws, support multisectorial actions and oversee the implementation of these initiatives.