WHO Reports Climate Change, Advertising as Threats to Global Children's Health

February 20th 2020

No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, according to a WHO report.

High levels of carbon emissions, commercial marketing of e-cigarette and alcohol products, and marketing of sugary food and drinks are all contributing to a global failure to provide children with healthy lives and futures, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, andThe Lancet.1

No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, according to a press release.2The United States is ranked 39th in the report’s ‘child flourishing index’ rankings, with a flourishing score of 0.84.1‘Flourishing’ is defined in the report as the geometric mean of surviving and thriving, as reported by each country. Scores closer to 0 indicate poor flourishing, with scores closer to 1.0 indicating good flourishing.1

“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” said New Zealand’s former prime minister, and co-chair of the commission Helen Clark, in a statement.2

Climate change, ecological degradation, migrating populations, conflicts, inequalities, and predatory commercial practices were all listed as concerns in the report, but intensifying climate change, and aggressive marketing practices were particularly emphasized.

CO2Emissions Pose a Major Global Threat

Despite wealthy countries typically having better child health and development outcomes, the authors noted that these same countries are responsible for much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions, they said, threaten the lives of all children.1

Specifically, the child flourishing index rankings found that children in Norway, the Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands have the best chance at survival, and well-being, while children in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger, and Mali have the worst odds.2

However, the top countries for child flourishing are trailing behind in per capita CO2emissions. Norway ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160. Each of these countries emits 210% more CO2than their 2030 target, according to the authors.2

Notably, the United States, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the 10 worse emitters of CO2.2

“While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest CO2emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck from Senegal, a co-chair of the commission, in a statement. “Promoting better conditions today for children to survive and thrive nationally does not have to come at the cost of eroding children’s futures globally.”2

Currently, the only countries on track to beat their CO2emission per capita targets by 2030, while also performing within the top 70 on child flourishing measures, are Albania, Armenia, Grenada, Jordan, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay, and Vietnam.2

Commercial Marketing Practices Harm Children’s Health

The authors also pointed to aggressive commercial marketing practices as a threat to child health, adding that child obesity increased 11-fold between 1975 and 2016—from 11 million children to 124 million children.2

According to the report, evidence suggests that some children see up to 30,000 advertisements on television alone in a single year. Specifically, youth exposure to vaping advertisements increased by over 250% in the United States over 2 years, and reached more than 24 million young people.2

In addition to advertisements for alcoholic beverages and e-cigarettes, advertisements for junk food and sugary beverages has been associated with increased purchase of unhealthy foods, and overweight and obesity.2

The report authors said industry self-regulation has failed, and urged new policies and investments to limit children’s exposure to harmful advertisements.2

“For example, despite industry signing up to self-regulation in Australia, children and adolescent viewers were still exposed to 51 million alcohol ads during just 1 year of televised football, cricket, and rugby,” said Anthony Costello, MD, one of the commission’s authors. “And the reality could be much worse still: we have few facts and figures about the huge expansion of social media advertising and algorithms aimed at our children.”2

The report, published inThe Lancet,listed 5 key recommendations to call for a “new global movement driven by and for children.”2

The recommendations included stopping CO2emissions with the utmost urgency; placing children and adolescents at the center of efforts to achieve sustainable development; implementing new policies and investments in all sectors to work toward child health and rights; incorporating children’s voices into policy decisions; and tightening national regulation of harmful commercial marketing.2

The necessary changes are not impossible to afford or implement, the authors said. According to an analysis of the international Sustainable Development Goals, the authors estimated a financing gap of $195 per person.1Not only would this investment improve the lives of children today, the authors said, but it would improve health and wellness for generations to come.

“The evidence is clear: early investments in children’s health, education, and development have benefits that compound throughout the child’s lifetime, for their future children, and society as a whole,” the authors said in the report.1

REFERENCES

  1. Clark H, Coll-Seck AM, Banerjee A, Peterson S, et al. A future for the world’s children? A WHO-UNICEF-LancetCommission.The Lancet;February 19, 2020.www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32540-1/fulltext. Accessed February 18, 2020.
  2. World failing to provide children with a health life and a climate fit for their future: WHO-UNICEF-Lancet[news release]. Geneva; February 14, 2020. [email]. Accessed February 18, 2020.

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