No country is adequately protecting the health of children or their environment and their future, according to a report published by a commission made up of more than 40 experts in children’s and adolescent health around the world.
The commission was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet.
Ecological degradation, inequality and aggressive and pernicious publicity are the most serious threats to children.
The report, entitled “A Future for the World’s Children? What future awaits the children of the world?” concludes that the health and future of children and adolescents in the world is under the immediate threat of ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push Children to consume very processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco.
“Despite improvements in the health of children and adolescents over the past 20 years, progress has stalled and is about to reverse,” said New Zealand Prime Minister and co-chair of the said commission, Helen Clark.
It is estimated that around 250 million children under five years of age in low and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their development potential, due to indirect measures that influence their stunted growth and poverty.
“Countries should review their approach to the health of children and adolescents to ensure that we not only take care of our children today but also protect the world they will inherit in the future,” the report reads.
The document incorporates a new world index of 180 countries, which compares the performance of these countries in areas such as child protection – with measures related to child survival and well-being such as health, education and nutrition -, sustainability – with an indicator related to greenhouse gas emissions – and equity or income differences.
It concludes that the poorest countries must do more to support their children’s ability to lead a healthy life. Otherwise, the consequences would be devastating for the health of children, due to the increase in diseases such as malaria and dengue, and malnutrition.
The index shows that children in Norway, the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands have the best chances of survival and well-being, while children in the Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali have the worst prospects.
Norway is ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166 and the Netherlands 160.
“More than 2 billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts and natural disasters,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck of Senegal, co-president of the Commission.
The promotion of better conditions for children to survive and prosper nationally does not have to be at the cost of eroding the future of children worldwide.
The report highlights the clear threat posed to children by harmful marketing practices, as childhood obesity has multiplied by 11.
Data show that children in some countries see up to 30,000 ads on television alone in one year, while young people’s exposure to electronic cigarette ads increased by more than 250% in the United States of America. over a period of two years, affecting more than 24 million young people.
Professor Anthony Costello, one of the authors of the Commission, expresses it clearly. “The self-regulation of the industry has failed. Several studies in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States of America, among many others, have shown that self-regulation has not hindered the commercial capacity to advertise for children. ”
For example, even though the industry adhered to self-regulation in Australia, “children and teenagers remained exposed to 51 million alcohol ads in just one year in the context of television broadcasting of football matches, Cricket and Rugby.
The reality could be much worse: “We have little data and figures on the enormous expansion of advertising on social networks and algorithms aimed at our children. ”
The exposure of children to the marketing of junk food and sugary drinks is associated with the purchase of unhealthy foods and obesity.
The number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016, that is, it multiplied by 11, with very high individual and social costs.
To protect children, the authors of the independent commission call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Some of their suggestions to improve conditions include establishing new policies and investments in all sectors to work for children’s health and rights, taking into account children’s opinions in political decisions, strengthening the national regulation of harmful marketing practices, with the support of a new Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, among others.
Richard Horton, editor in chief of the Lancet group’s publications, said: “We have a great opportunity. We have evidence. We have the necessary tools.”
This Commission calls on both the heads of state and local governments, and both the leaders of the United Nations and even the children themselves, for a new era to be born in favour of the health of children and adolescents. It will take courage and commitment to keep up. “It is the supreme test of our generation. ”
“From the climate crisis to obesity and harmful business practices, children around the world have to face threats that were unimaginable just a few generations ago,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF.
“The time has come to rethink children’s health, so that children and their well-being are placed at the top of the development agenda of all governments and above all considerations.”
“This report shows that, too often, decision makers in the world are failing children and young people today: failing to protect their health, their rights and their planet,” he said. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, general director of the World Health Organization.
“This should be a wake-up call for countries to invest in children’s health and development, ensure that their voices are heard, protect their rights and build an appropriate future for children.”