Indonesia: Obesity rates among adults double over past two decades
UNICEF and WHO call for improved consumption of healthy food and beverages on World Obesity Day
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JAKARTA, 04 March 2021 – The number of overweight adults in Indonesia has doubled over the past two decades* said WHO and UNICEF today, calling for an urgent move to enhance legislation, policies and regulations to curb the availability of unhealthy food and beverages.
Childhood obesity is also on the rise, with one in five primary school-aged children and one in seven adolescents in Indonesia being overweight or obese, according to the 2018 national Basic Health Research Survey (RISKESDAS).
Obese children and adolescents are more likely to suffer from non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well as depression due to stigmatization. They are also more likely to miss school, perform worse in their studies and are less likely to complete higher education. Obese children are also at greater risk of becoming obese adults.
“Good nutrition is not just about having enough food to eat but also getting the right food to eat,” said UNICEF Representative Debora Comini. “But too many children and young people in Indonesia have few healthy, nutritious options available, and too many parents do not have sufficient knowledge to take the best decisions regarding their family’s food choices.”
Obesity rates in Indonesia are increasing rapidly in both rich and poor households as they shift from traditional diets towards processed products that are often higher in fat and sugar, and less expensive than wholesome foods.
People living in urban areas are more likely to be overweight as access to processed food is easier. City living is also associated with more sedentary lifestyles, especially among women and girls, due to inadequate infrastructure such as narrow pavements and a lack of parks, which limit opportunities for exercising.
“These data are a stark reminder that obesity is a global public health crisis today,” said WHO Representative Dr N. Paranietharan. “WHO encourages countries to address the factors that are contributing to obesity by enforcing disincentives on unhealthy consumption, promoting the availability of healthy food and greater participation in active lifestyle.”
Cheap and easy access to unhealthy foods, along with exploitative marketing practices and packaging, are directly linked to growing overweight and obesity. Among both adults and children, the intake of ultra-processed foods is strongly associated with being overweight, with soda consumption particularly linked to obesity among adult men. Instant noodles and sugary drinks also lead to elevated levels of C-reactive protein – a marker of cardiovascular risk – according to research using nationally representative data.
To tackle the growing obesity epidemic, UNICEF and WHO call for enhanced legislation and policies that curb access to unhealthy food and beverages, such as a tax on sugary drinks, and a range of complementary actions such as front-of-pack labelling that can help consumers identify unhealthy products and make better nutrition choices. The food and beverage industry should also commit to produce healthier, affordable food options.
* Indonesian Family Life Survey (RAND Corporation)
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