No single country is adequately protecting their children’s health, environment or future, according to a report released by a Commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts from around the world, convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet journal.
According to the report, 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.
“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled and is set to reverse,” said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and a Co-Chair of the Commission.
“It has been estimated that around 250 million children under the age of five in low and middle income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty,” Ms. Clark said.
She said an even greater concern is that every child worldwide currently faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.
According to the report, which includes an index of 180 countries, the poorest nations need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthier lives.
It also said excessive carbon emissions — disproportionately emitted from wealthier countries — threaten the future of all children.
If global warming exceeds 4 degree Celsius by the year 2100 (in line with current projections), it would lead to devastating health consequences for children due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition, the Commission said.
According to the Commission, children in Norway, the Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands have the best chance at survival and well-being, while those in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali face the worst odds.
When the authors took per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into account, top countries including Norway (ranked at 156), the Republic of Korea (166) and the Netherlands (160), trailed behind.
Each of the three countries emit 210% more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target, it said, adding that the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia were among the ten worst emitters.
Exposure to advertisements
The report also noted that children in certain countries saw as many as 30,000 advertisements on television in a single year. Moreover, exposure of young adults to vaping advertisements increased by more than 250% in the U.S. over two years.
Commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages, it added, is associated with the purchase of unhealthy foods and a higher risk of obesity in children.
The Commission called for a stop on CO2 emissions with utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet.
It said children and adolescents must be placed at the centre of countries’ efforts to achieve sustainable development, with the implementation of new policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights.
The report advised world leaders to tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing, supported by a new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.