The health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices, a study has warned.
The report, released by a commission of more than 40 child and adolescent health experts, argues that no single country is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and their futures.
“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” warned Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-chair of the commission. “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.”
Critics have said that such findings can be alarmist and could, ironically, have a negative impact on the mental health of future generations.
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.
If global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this would lead to devastating health consequences for children because of rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition, the report said.
The index shows that children in Norway, the 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, 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 US, Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the 10 worst emitters.
“More than two billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts and natural disasters, problems increasingly linked with climate change,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck from Senegal, co-chair of the commission. “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.”
Youth exposure to vaping advertisements increased by more than 250% in the US over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people
Source: World Health Organisation
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 Vietnam.
The report also highlights the threat posed to children from harmful marketing. Evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 advertisements on TV in a single year, while youth exposure to vaping advertisements increased by more than 250% in the US over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people.
Meanwhile, children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages is associated with the purchase of unhealthy foods and overweight and obesity, linking predatory marketing to the 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.
Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet family of journals, said: “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.”