Every child in the world is under threat, major report warns

Future of every child in the world is under threat as decades of health improvements begin to stall, warns a major World Health Organisation report

  • Obesity, air pollution and climate change pose an ‘immediate threat’ to children 
  • UK gives children good start in life – among the best ten countries in the world 
  • But experts are concerned about Britain’s faltering vaccination uptake
  • Norway ranked top for ‘flourishing’ child health, while central Africa ranked last

Every child in the world is under threat as decades of health improvements begin to stall, according to major World Health Organisation report.

Obesity, air pollution and climate change pose an ‘immediate threat’ to children in wealthy and poor countries alike.

The report, written by 40 experts from around the world and published in the Lancet, said no country of the 180 analysed are protecting child’s health adequately on all measures.

They said big business is to blame by using ‘exploitative marketing practices’ to ‘push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children’.

The UK gives children good start in life – among the best ten countries in the world for ‘flourishing’ child health thanks to the strong NHS and education system.

But it trails in 133rd place on providing a healthy environment – with Britain on track to emit 115 per cent more carbon dioxide by 2030 than its emissions target.

Experts are also concerned about Britain’s faltering vaccination uptake, with childhood immunisation now standing at 94 per cent – lower than most other European countries.

Widespread childhood poverty in the UK is also putting children at risk.

Every child in the world is under threat as decades of health improvements begin to stall, according to major World Health Organisation report

Professor Anthony Costello of University College London, who contributed to the report, said: ‘While the UK’s wealth, provision of free health care through the NHS, and investment in pre-school education and social welfare are strongly linked to good child survive and thrive measures, we cannot rest on our laurels.

‘The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a seven per cent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40 per cent.

‘For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st-century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.’ 

Globally, the authors are most concerned about environmental issues and obesity.

They believe ‘predatory marketing’ of junk food and sugary drinks is directly driving obesity – the number of obese children and adolescents globally having increased from 11million in 1975 to 124million in 2016. 

Professor Costello said: ‘Industry self-regulation has failed.

‘Studies in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA – among many others – have shown that self-regulation has not hampered commercial ability to advertise to children.’  


1. Norway

2. Republic of Korea

3. Netherlands

4. France

5. Ireland

6. Denmark

7. Japan

8. Belgium

9. Iceland

10. United Kingdom  


1. Central African Republic

2. Chad

3. Somalia

4. Niger

5. Mali

6. Guinea

7. Nigeria

8. South Sudan

9. Sierra Leone

10. Afghanistan  

Children in Norway (pictured) have the best chance at survival and well-being

Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who co-chaired the report, said: ‘Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse.

‘Every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.


Soaring deaths caused by obesity will slash the average life expectancy of an American by nearly four years over the next three decades, a damning report revealed in October 2019.

For Britons, the average life will be shortened by nearly three years over the same time frame thanks to a host of health issues linked to a bulging waistline, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made the bleak projections in a damning report about the global obesity epidemic, that ranks 36 developed countries and how they are tackling their citizens weight problems.

It said that between 2020 and 2050, obesity and related illnesses will cause an average life expectancy drop of three years in the 36 countries it represents.

A predicted 90million lives will be lost to illnesses related to overeating in the next 30 years. 

The average American lives to the age of 79, while the life expectancy in Britain is slightly higher, at 81.

Almost 70 per cent of Americans and 62 per cent of adults in the UK are overweight or obese, putting them at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer.

‘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.’ 

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said: ‘This report shows that the world’s decision makers are failing today’s children and youth – failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet.

‘This must be a wakeup 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.’ 

The index shows compared performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival, well-being and sustainability, including a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions.

Children in Norway, the Republic of 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.

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. 

The United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the ten worst emitters. 

The only countries on track to beat CO2 emission per capita targets by 2030, while also performing fairly on child flourishing measures, were Albania, Armenia, Grenada, Jordan, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay and Vietnam. 

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