World

Obesity among Asia-Pacific children a growing health crisis

KUALA LUMPUR Obesity rates among children in Asia-Pacific are rising at a rapid rate, and more action is needed to encourage healthier lifestyles and ease pressure on fledgling healthcare systems, researchers said.

The number of overweight children under five rose 38 per cent between 2000 and 2016 in the region, and the problem is growing, said Mr Sridhar Dharmapuri, a food safety and nutrition officer at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Bangkok.

"The rate of growth in obesity in Asia-Pacific is higher than in many other countries," Mr Dharmapuri told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"While the United States leads the way on obesity rates, the number of overweight children in Asia-Pacific is rising rapidly, and many countries in this region are now among the most health-threatened in the world."

Adult obesity rates are highest in the US, Mexico, New Zealand and Hungary, and lowest in Japan and South Korea, according to a report on member states by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the rapid rise in obesity among young people in Asia-Pacific is worrying because overweight children are at higher risk of becoming obese as adults and then developing serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand are among the most overweight countries in South-east Asia, while Samoa, Tonga and Nauru are the most overweight in the Pacific. Australia also has high rates of obesity.

Many of these nations are also struggling to tackle malnutrition among their citizens.

The cost to the Asia-Pacific region of citizens being overweight or obese is US$166 ($217) billion a year, a recent report by the Asian Development Bank Institute said.

Rising wealth levels over the last 20 years, urbanisation and changes in lifestyle have played major roles in the rise in obesity levels, researchers say.

The "obesity time bomb" will be discussed by the 46 member governments attending the FAO conference for Asia and the Pacific, which began in Fiji yesterday.

- REUTERS

WORLD