UK also 133rd in a global index of 180 countries when it comes to “delivering on emissions targets”, WHO report finds; By Paul Gallagher, Tuesday, 18th February 2020
The UK is one of the worst places in the world when it comes to delivering on emission targets while exploitative marketing practices pushing fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children are having a devastating effect, according to a landmark report.

The nation ranked 10th regarding “child flourishing” but 133rd in a global index of 180 countries when it comes to providing a “climate fit for our children’s future” – eight places behind Iraq. The UK is “currently on track to emit 115 per cent more CO2 than its 2030 emissions target”, the analysis concluded.

Child survival rates are also falling behind other rich countries due to a drop in vaccination rates, while nearly two-thirds of food adverts during UK children’s television are dominated by food items that are bad for oral health, the report says.

Gambling problems among adults are also having a knock-on effect on children. There are now 340,000 adult problem gamblers in the UK and 1.7m more people suffering some harm – in a country where one in eight children aged 11–16 years old follow a gambling company on social media. In the UK, as in most countries, gambling adverts on TV sport events, which are accessible to children, are unregulated.

Children’s online exposure is “nothing short of enormous” with children aged 11–16 years old posting on social media 26 times a day on average, adding up to tens of thousands of posts by the time they are 18 years old.

The findings, published in The Lancet, show that the future of every young person worldwide is “under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children”.

The number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – an 11-fold increase, with “dire individual and societal costs”.


No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and their futures the report found. It was produced by an independent commission made of over 40 leading child and adolescent health experts from around the world, set up jointly by WHO, UNICEF and The Lancet.

“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 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.

“Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today but protect the world they will inherit in the future.”

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, due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition.

Best chance

The index shows that children in Norway, South 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.

The authors call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Specific recommendations include incorporating 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; and stopping CO2 emissions with the “utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet”.

Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said: “The opportunity is great. The evidence is available. The tools are at hand. 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.”

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “This must be a wake-up call for countries to invest in child health and development, ensure their voices are heard, protect their rights, and build a future that is fit for children.”

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