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Children are targets of powerful food marketing campaigns World Diabetes Day: let’s protect our future

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Cairo, 14 November 2012 - The annual celebration of the World Diabetes Day on 14 November is a reminder that this disease remains one of the most serious and most prevalent chronic problems in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, threatening lives and the overall development in several of countries in the Region. Risk factors for diabetes are unhealthy eating habits and low physical activity, leading to overweight. These risk factors have been steadily increasing among populations of the Region, with the tragic result that six of the ten nations with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

It is therefore very fitting that for World Diabetes Day 2012, the International Diabetes Federation has adopted the slogan: “Diabetes: let’s protect our future”. This slogan focuses on the importance of health education and awareness to prevent diabetes in the upcoming generation of children and adolescents.

For several years now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been stressing the importance of providing a safe environment in which children can grow with the least possible exposure to risk factors which can impact negatively on health. However, there is evidence that such exposures are in fact increasing. Children are targeted by powerful marketing campaigns prompting them to consume food items with no nutritional value and with quantities of sugar and fat that far surpass their physiological needs. These campaigns include flooding school canteens and vending outlets with harmful food items, and conducting intense marketing through the mass media, just as levels of physical activity are plummeting even among younger children.

This combination of unhealthy behaviours has led to rising levels of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents. Early weight increase, in turn, is the most powerful risk factor for diabetes at younger ages. Persons living with diabetes have an increased probability of developing a number of cardiovascular conditions which can force them to be on chronic medication for the rest of their lives. Their blood levels must be monitored daily. They need regular screening in order to avoid vision disorders, which may result in blindness, or kidney failure, which may result in the need for dialysis. Leisure activities of diabetic patients are limited by the disease, as they have to comply with strict foot hygiene guidelines to avoid infection.

The seriousness of the disease clearly justifies intense efforts for education and prevention as early as possible, to protect children from entering a vicious circle which disrupts and shortens life. WHO has called on all nations to set up regulatory policies and to establish life-skills programmes to protect children, improve their knowledge and awareness and train them to acquire habits that will allow them to successfully avoid diabetes and several other serious noncommunicable diseases.

The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean has started working with countries in the Region to strengthen laws limiting the marketing of unhealthy food items, regulating the nutritional value of items presented in school canteens and school vending outlets, and protecting the environment in which children can safely enjoy physical activity and sports. However, these measures need to be put into place fast in order to spare our children the bitter daily experiences of the millions already living with diabetes in the Region.

Related links

World Diabetes Day 2012