Expert warns against spread of obesity

October 12, 2011

Qatar ranks sixth globally in the prevalence of obesity, figures from an expert international association indicate.

According to International Association for the Study of Obesity statistics, Qatar also has the highest rate of obesity among boys in the region.

Making a presentation on ‘Children, Media and the Childhood Obesity Crisis’ at the Northwestern University in Qatar’s new lecture series, Ellen Wartella, Communication, Psychology, Human Development and Social Policy professor, said that worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

“Around 65% of the world’s population lives in countries where problems associated with being overweight and obesity kill more people than being underweight and nearly 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010,” she said.

“According to World Health Organisation statistics in 2010, 73% of men and 70.2% of women were deemed overweight and 31.3% of men and 38.1% of women were considered obese. There are predictions that in five years, 69% of men and 73% of women worldwide will qualify as obese,” she said, quoted by Qatari daily Gulf Times.

Currently over two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are either overweight or obese, she said.

“Over the past 30 years, the rate of obesity has doubled for two to five-year-olds and adolescents and more than tripled for children between six and 11. At present, more than 9 million children over six are considered obese and more than 23 million or about one-third is overweight,” she said.

According to Wartella, recent surveys show that childhood obesity has become the parents’ top health concern —more than smoking and drug abuse— and that parents consider “junk food” part of the problem.

However, she suggested that to prevent childhood obesity by 2016, foods most heavily marketed to children should meet the two basic nutritional principles of providing meaningful contribution to a healthy diet and minimizing nutrients with negative impact on health.

“Food targeting children such as breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages as well as prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts and restaurant foods, should meet nutritional value for them,” she said.

Wartella said that childhood obesity according to a 2004 Institute of Medicine report should be viewed as a societal problem reflecting the interactive influences of environment, biology and behaviour rather than as an individual medical illness.

The cost of childhood obesity could include social, emotional as well as physical and health cost, she said.

“While some physical costs may not result until later in life, there are immediate effects on children’s social and emotional lives. Research indicates that obese children and youth are stigmatised and subject to negative stereotyping and discrimination,” she said.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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