The cost of a polluted environment: 1.7 million child deaths a year

More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments.

Every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, according to the WHO.

The top 5 causes of death in children under 5 are:

  • respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke (570,000 children a year)
  • diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (361,000 children a year)
  • conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution (270,000 children a year in their first month of life)
  • malaria that could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage (200,000 children a year)
  • unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning (200,000 children a year)

For more information on the causes of death for children under 5 from the who.int website

TV and internet marketing to children

The WHO have produced a protocol “Monitoring food and beverage marketing to children via television and the Internet” to help countries in the European Region gather data in a way that will support policy changes.
Most data on the prevalence of food and beverage marketing come from high-income, English-speaking countries,
specifically Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. They show that the marketing of HFSS foods (high in saturated fats, salt and/or sugar) to children is highly prevalent, actively uses persuasive techniques likely to appeal to children and is present across multiple media, including broadcast television and social media online.
Continued monitoring is needed in these countries, to ensure that up-to-date evidence is available to inform and strengthen policy and that policies are adequately evaluated.
More data are urgently needed from other countries, however, to support the domestic policy-making process and to build a more representative global picture of food-marketing activity.
Studies conducted in accordance with this protocol will interest policy-makers, academic researchers, public health
practitioners and advocacy groups in the WHO European Region and worldwide.
To download the protocol on Monitoring food and beverage marketing to children from the euro.who.int website

New school food guidelines aim for pleasant, sustainable dining

Health and education authorities in Finland have issued new guidelines for school food for the first time in a decade. They’re aimed at making lunches more nutritious – and more appealing to youngsters.

The new recommendations call for more emphasis on dining as a calm, pleasant communal experience and on the sustainability of food. This means more serious vegetarian alternatives, as well as more fish and “less red meat, more vegetables, fruit and berries”.

According to the new guidelines, pupils should be allowed at least half an hour to eat, and lunch should be served between around 11 am and noon. Since many schools’ cafeterias may be too cramped for comfortable eating, it is also suggested that schools could experiment with having pupils eat together in their own classrooms, for instance.

For more information about Finland’s new school food guidelines on the yle.fi website

UN European coalition on health

The UN European coalition on health is a coordination mechanism focusing on the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – in the pan-European Region, and of the health-related targets present in other SDGs.

At its initial meeting in 2016 the coalition identified four key workstreams to focus on:

  1. health throughout the life-course, with a focus on maternal and child health (contributing to SDG 3, 4, 5, 16);
  2. communicable diseases, with a focus on HIV and tuberculosis (contributing to SDG 3, 1, 6);
  3. universal health coverage, with a focus on medicines (contributing to SDG 3, 1, 5);
  4. migration, including aspects of emergencies (contributing to SDG 3, 1, 10, 11, 13).

For more information about the UN European coalition on health on the euro.who.int website

Toxoplasmosis: greater awareness needed

Toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, is estimated to affect more than 2 million people every year in the European Region. Although most people do not have symptoms, if a woman becomes infected just before or early in her pregnancy, it can have very serious health consequences for her child.

Toxoplasma can be acquired trans-placentally (mother to baby), through contact with infected soil or water, ingestion of contaminated food, or in very rare cases through blood/organ donation. It is assumed that half the cases come from eating contaminated food, such as inadequately cooked animal meat, or raw fruits and vegetables. Infection can also occur through contact with cat faeces in the environment, but cats only shed oocysts for a few weeks of their life, usually when kittens. Cats play an important role in the life cycle of the parasite, but they are not the main vehicle of infection.

To prevent food-borne toxoplasmosis, hand-washing and the use of clean water in food production and preparation is critical. Pregnant women should avoid undercooked meat. Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed with clean water.

For more information about Toxoplasmosis on the euro.who.int website

Tackling Childhood Obesity

Tackling Childhood Obesity in Europe through Awareness and Prevention 

Thursday 12th October 2017 at the Thon Hotel, Brussels

Around one-third of 11-years-olds in Europe are overweight or obese according to the WHO. More than 60% of overweight children will stay overweight into adulthood, imposing a major burden on public spending. Indeed, around 7% of the national health budgets across the EU are spent each year on diseases linked to obesity.

This symposium will enable attendees to examine the factors underpinning childhood obesity and discuss the current strategies for prevention and treatment. The symposium will further offer delegates a platform to share ideas and best practice from across Europe.

For more information and to register for Tackling Childhood Obesity on the publicpolicyexchange.co.uk website

How active are our children?

Report cards on the physical activity of children and youth across the world have been released revealing how countries compare in getting their youth active. The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance was responsible for organising the cards which graded countries on nine common indicators, overall physical activity, organized sport participation, active play, active transportation, sedentary behaviour, family and peers, school, community and the built environment and government strategies and investment.

The cards reflect standardised grading across countries ranging from  A= excellent to F = failing. Average grades for both physical activity and sedentary behaviour around the world are D. There is no data available for Northern Ireland, but both England and Scotland have been graded as D while Scotland is graded as F.

For more information about children’s physical activity and health on the bhfactive.org.uk website

Children’s medicines

Do you have an interest in safe medicines for children – as a parent, researcher or prescriber? If so, you are invited to participate in a stakeholder consultation launched by the European Commission. The aim is to gather real-life experiences and opinions on the Paediatric Regulation which came into force a decade ago and has three main objectives:

  • to ensure high-quality research into the development of medicines for children
  • to ensure that the majority of medicines used by children are specifically authorised for such use and so reduce the level of off-label use
  • to ensure the availability of high-quality information about medicines used by children.

The consultation is open until 20 February 2017.

More information about medicines for children and to contribute to the consultation on the ec.europa.eu website.

Pilot health projects funded by the EU

A pilot project is simply an experimental initiative designed to test the feasibility and usefulness of action. It is meant to try different approaches, develop evidence-based strategies to address a problem, identify good practices, and provide policy guidance for the benefit of possible future initiatives in the area of nutrition and physical activity.

Boards of scientific experts have been set up from a variety of disciplines for each project to provide robust guidelines for the project intervention and to validate its tools including the project websites which reflect the views of the authors and not necessarily the official opinion of the Commission.

Examples of pilot projects include ‘My healthy family’; ‘ We love eating’ and ‘Taste booster’.

Read more about some pilot projects on healthy living on the ec.europa.eu website

Children and the digital marketing of food

Food marketing has been identified as an important contributor to the “obesogenic” environment, in which foods high in fats, salt and sugars are promoted extensively, are more visible and are cheaper and easier to obtain than healthy options. Food marketing has been shown consistently to influence children’s food preferences and choices, shape their dietary habits and increase their risk of becoming obese.

In the absence of effective regulation of digital media in many countries, children are increasingly exposed to persuasive, individually tailored marketing techniques through, for example, social media sites and “advergames”.

For the first time, researchers and health experts have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of digital marketing to children of foods high in fats, salt and sugars. The findings are published in a new report from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, ‘Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world: trans-disciplinary perspectives’, which calls for immediate action by policy-makers to recognize and address the growing issue of marketing targeted to children via digital media.

Download the report on Children and the Digital Marketing of Food from the euro.who.int website