6 March 2006

Half of American children obese by 2010, 38% of European ones [AP]

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Associated Press reports that according to a study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, rates of childhood obesity are expected to skyrocket in the coming years, with half of the children in North and South America obese by 2010 (via FutureWire).

Europe doesn’t fare much better, with 38% of kids there expected to be overweight within five years. Even China will see its population of obese children increase to 20% in that period.

“The Western world’s food industries without even realising it have precipitated an epidemic with enormous health consequences,” said Dr. Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force.

As in the US, the combination of junk food, poor overall eating habits and less exercise is to blame for the problem worldwide. The trend has crucial implications on the future health of the young generation — most notably, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. “This is going to be the first generation that’s going to have a lower life expectancy than their parents,” said UK surgeon Dr. Phillip Thomas. “It’s like the plague is in town and no one is interested.”

To fight the epidemic, radical steps need to be taken, says Dr. James. He believes that all marketing aimed at children — especially for food — should be banned.

What can designers do to change this trend?

Today I was reading Open Health, the UK Design Council report on creating new healthcare systems, which starts out with a poignant analysis of the current state of institutionalised health care:

“Healthcare was shaped by the 19th century problems of contagious and acute disease, and institutionalised in the organisational model of the mass production era. Those structures now have to cope with a new epidemic of chronic disease. Without significant changes, health spending in real terms would have to double within 15 years to keep pace with demand, with health spending rising from 7.7% to 11per cent of GDP within a decade.”

The Design Council report claims to show how designing from the individual’s point of view could provide the key to solutions to this problem.

Another topic much addressed in this blog is children. Experts are now arguing that legislation is the only solution to address childhood obesity and that it is not going to be enough any more just to say to the consumer they have to change their behaviour. This will of course have major implications on food, media and toy industries. But what can companies do? What can designers do?

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