No Single Country Is Adequately Protecting Children’s Health: WHO-UNICEF-Lancet

A Future for the World’s Children? A landmark report, prepared jointly by the WHO, UNICEF, LANCET, has found that despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future.

The report, released on February 19 by a Commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts from around the world, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.

A New Global Index

The report includes a new global index of 180 countries, comparing performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival and well-being, such as health, education, and nutrition; sustainability, with a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions, and equity, or income gaps.

The index shows 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 face the worst odds.

However, when authors took per capita CO2 emissions into account, the top countries trail behind: Norway ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160. Each of the three emits 210% more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target. The United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the ten worst emitters.

The 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.

Important Findings of the Report
  • The poorest countries need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthy lives.
  • Wealthier countries emit GHGs disproportionally more than developing countries.
  • Carbon emissions threaten the future of all children
  • If global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this would lead to devastating health consequences for children.
  • Global Warming will result in rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition.
  • More than 2 billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts, and natural disasters, problems increasingly linked with climate change.
Harmful Commercial Marketing

The report also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing.

  • Evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 advertisements on television alone in a single year, while youth exposure to vaping (e-cigarettes) advertisements increased by more than 250% in the USA over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people.
  • 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.
  • Children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages is associated with purchase of unhealthy foods and overweight and obesity, linking predatory marketing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity.
A Manifesto for Immediate Action on Child and Adolescent Health

To protect children, the independent Commission authors call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Specific recommendations include:

  • Stop CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet.
  • Place children and adolescents at the centre of our efforts to achieve sustainable development.
  • New policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights.
  • Incorporate children’s voices into policy decisions.
  • Tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing, supported by a new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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