What should be the U.S. position in the UN on

Iowa Youth Symposium on the United Nations
October 2014
What should be the U.S. position in the UN on
childhood obesity? (Social Topic)
Topic Background
In the last twenty years, childhood obesity has charged to the forefront of global public health
concerns affecting both developed and developing countries. Although discussion on obesity is
already prevalent in developed countries, the World Health Organization is working to bring
awareness to the issue in developing countries, where they estimate that nearly 75% of children
who are overweight live.
Most concerning is the sharp rise in overweight and obese children over the course of the last ten
years. In 2004, about 22 million children were overweight, and in 2013, the number had nearly
doubled to 43 million. In the Middle East alone, obesity has increased by 100% since 1990. The
future looks equally troubling, with the obesity rate expected to increase by fifty percent in the next
ten years. Obesity in children is especially concerning due to the associated health problems it leads
to later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Increased childhood obesity is attributed to several factors. An inadequate food system in some
countries leads to no sufficient source of quality food. Cheap foods that are high in starch and sugar
replace more expensive, nutritious foods in people’s diets. Poor food systems coupled with the
adoption of Western diets, urbanization, mechanization, changing transportation systems, TV, and
computers means that sedentary lifestyles are becoming the norm around the world. The effects of
childhood obesity later in life overwhelm health systems, raising health care costs and straining
public health budgets.
Recently, the WHO has taken action to halt the rise in the obesity epidemic, treating the issue as a
preventable disease. As part of their 24 Essential Nutrition Actions to help countries prevent
childhood obesity, the WHO is emphasizing preventative measure that target pregnant women and
adolescent girls. Among these essential actions are educating mothers about nutrition during
pregnancy, breastfeeding, and providing solid foods for young children. The goal is to reduce infant
and child mortality, improve growth and development of young children, and ultimately improve
productivity later in life.
In 2012, the WHO released a report detailing the detrimental effects of obesity on children and
tools for prevention. The report, “Prioritizing Areas for Action in the Field of Population-Based
Prevention of Childhood Obesity: A Set of Tools for Member States,” also encouraged states to use
the WHO’s 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health, which emphasizes
“improving global diet and physical activity patterns.”
Questions to Consider
1. How does the WHO define overweight and obesity?
2. What right does the international community, or state and local governments have to
impose food restrictions?
3. With technology making physical activity less appealing, how can children adopt healthy
lifestyles and maintain them into adulthood?
4. What should the international community do to ensure that healthy supply is constant and
UN Sources
“Childhood Obesity: A Set of Tools for Member States.” World Health Organization. Geneva,
Switzerland. 2012.
“Childhood Overweight and Obesity.” World Health Organization. 2014.
“Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children.” World Health Organization. 2010.
“Prioritizing Areas for Action in the Field of Population-Based Prevention of Childhood Obesity.”
World Health Organization. 2012.
“UN Agencies Urge Fight Against Childhood Obesity to Prevent Diabetes.” UN News Centre. 11 Nov
“UN Outlines Actions to Help Tackle ‘Double Threat’ of Childhood Obesity, Undernutrition.” UN
News Centre. 6 June 2013.
“WHO Issues Guidance on Emerging Double Threat of Childhood Obesity and Undernutrition in
Low- and Middle-income Countries.” World Health Organization. 5 June 2013.
Other Sources
“Child Obesity: Too Many Kids Are Too Heavy, Too Young.” Harvard School of Public Health.
Hoffman, D.J. “Obesity in Developing Countries: Causes and Implications.” Food and Agriculture
Montessori Model United Nations. “Childhood Obesity: Topic Background.” 2014.
Popkin, Barry M., Linda S. Adair, and Shu Wen Ng. “Now and Then: The Global Nutrition Transition:
The Pandemic Obesity in Developing Countries.” Nutrition Review. Jan 2012; 70(1): 3-21.