By 2025, the number of overweight children aged under five is on track to rise worldwide from an estimated 41 million today, to 70 million.
The researchers also claim that a third of children in Europe aged between six and nine are currently either overweight or obese.
An associated condition, fatty liver, is now the single most common cause of chronic liver disease among children and adolescents in the west, with three-year-olds among documented cases, according to the analysis of data from 46 countries in the European region.
The report 'Paediatric Digestive Health Across Europe', commissioned by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), states that between 20 and 30 per cent of all inflammatory bowel disease starts developing in childhood.
Prof Michael Manns, who is the UEG’s president, and director of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology at Hannover Medical School, Germany, said, ‘Across Europe we have leading paediatric experts and many centres of excellence.
‘However, these are not widespread and currently cannot meet the needs of children throughout the continent.
‘This has an impact not just on individuals and their families but on society and wider health service provision.’
Treating obesity-related disorders add a tenth onto Europe’s total healthcare spend, and gastroenterological disease is increasing, with fears not enough is being spent on research.
Berthold Kiletzko, president of the European Society for Paediatric Gastroloenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, said, ‘It is extremely worrying that only one out of 58 topics currently receiving EU research funding is focused on paediatric health.
‘Priorities need to change quickly to appreciate the specific issues of paediatric digestive provision and ensure greater investment into prevention.’
The report coincided with ‘digestive health month’, a campaign by his organisation, which represents societies of 22,000 specialists.
The report cites six key actions needed:
- Further development of national strategies and public health campaigns for education, prevention and early intervention
- Improve and harmonise training standards through the development of a pan-European digestive health syllabus
- Enhance paediatric subspeciality training to understand the complex physical, psychological and social needs of children
- Develop transition services as patients move from teenage to adult care
- Encourage further research into childhood digestive diseases and early life programming to enable improved prevention strategies
- Further development of specialised centres for the optimal management of children with digestive diseases
Prof Mann said, ‘What is important is that all children who have obesity, 90 per cent retain their obesity in adulthood.
‘Therefore it is so important to develop campaigns in childhood.’