No single country the world is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and futures, says a report released by a Commission of over 40 Child and Adolescent Health Experts from around the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) made this known on its website on Wednesday.
The commission was convened by WHO, UNICEF and The Lancet.
The report is entitled: “A Future for the World’s Children.”
It said that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide was under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices.
The report said that the threat had pushed heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.
Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Commission, said that in spite of improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress had stalled, and set to reverse.
“It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty.
“But of even greater concern, every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.
“Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today, but protect the world they will inherit in the future,” she said.
The report includes a new global index of 180 countries, comparing performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival and wellbeing, such as health, education, and nutrition.
Others are sustainability, with a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions, and equity, or income gaps.
According to the report, while the poorest countries need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthy lives, excessive carbon emissions disproportionately from wealthier countries threaten the future of all children.
It noted that if global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this would lead to devastating health consequences for children.
The report said that this was due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria, dengue and malnutrition.
The index shows that children in Norway, Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands have the best chance at survival and wellbeing, while children in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali face the worst odds.
However, it said that when authors took per capita CO2 emissions into account, the top countries trail behind: Norway ranked 156, Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160.
It noted that each of the three countries emits 210 per cent more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target.
The report disclosed that the United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia were among the 10 worst emitters.
Awa Coll-Seck, a Minister from Senegal, also Co-Chair of the commission, said, “More than two billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts, natural disasters and problems increasingly linked with climate change.
“While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest CO2 emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
“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,” Coll-Seck said in the report.
The report revealed that only countries on track to beat CO2 emission per capita targets by 2030, while also performing fairly (within the top 70) on child flourishing measures are: Albania, Armenia, Grenada, Jordan, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay and Viet Nam.
It also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing, saying that evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 advertisements on television alone in a single year.
The report added that youths exposure to vaping (e-cigarettes) advertisements increased by more than 250 per cent in the USA over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people.
Also, Prof. Anthony Costello, one of the commission’s authors, said: “Industry Self-regulation has failed.
“Studies in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA – among many others – have shown that self-regulation has not hampered commercial ability to advertise to children.
“For example, despite industry signing up to self-regulation in Australia, children and adolescent viewers were still exposed to 51 million alcohol advertisements during just one year of televised football, cricket and rugby.
“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.”
The report noted that children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages was associated with purchase of unhealthy foods, linking predatory marketing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity.
“The number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016, an 11-fold increase, with dire individual and societal costs,” it said.
To protect children, the independent commission authors called for a new global movement driven by and for children.
It recommended an halt to CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on the planet.
The report added that children and adolescents be placed at the centre of efforts to achieve sustainable development.
It called for new policies and investment in all sectors to work toward child health and rights; incorporate children’s voices into policy decisions and tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing.
Also, Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet family of journals, said that the opportunity was great, evidence available and tools were at hand.
“From heads-of-state to local government, from UN leaders to children themselves, this commission calls for the birth of a new era for child and adolescent health.
“It will take courage and commitment to deliver. It is the supreme test of our generation,” Horton said.
The UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said that from the climate crisis to obesity and harmful commercial marketing, children around the world were contending with threats that were unimaginable just a few generations ago.
“It is time for a rethink on child health, one which places children at the top of every government’s development agenda and puts their wellbeing above all considerations.
“This report shows that the world’s decision makers are, too often, failing today’s children and youths: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet,” Fore said.
Also, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said the report was a wakeup call for countries to invest in child health and development.
Ghebreyesus said it also called for their voices to be heard, protect their rights, and build a future that was fit for children.