Imagine a world where people live for 100 healthy years? While it may sound like a science fiction movie, it soon can become a reality, thanks to the efforts of German science and technology company Merck which has launched a strategy and action plan to prepare GEN100 – the next generation of kids who will be able to live 100 healthy years.
The Current Landscape
The findings of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) white paper, “Kids and Old Age” describe the current landscape and some key findings include: Today’s children will be less healthy than today’s adults over 65 when they reach that age. Also, lifestyle-related problems are likely to contribute to chronic disease in later life and are already causing health problems among children. Across the five countries surveyed, schools are targeting the main perceived problems, such as lack of exercise, but are ignoring mental health issues. There is little evidence that such school education programs are managing to stem rising rates of obesity and mental disorders.
The reality is that lifestyle-related problem later contribute to chronic diseases in adult years. Close to one third of parents surveyed reported that at least one of their children suffered from a physical chronic illness. And despite the concern over their child’s diet and sedentary lifestyles, few parents surveyed actually stated their child is overweight. Certainly parents play a big role when it comes to inculcating good eating habits at a young age and introducing healthy lifestyle habits at age appropriate times.
With today’s advancements in modern science, medical technology, and health innovations, the average life expectancy is rising. But the downside is that despite this, lifestyle diseases-particularly diabetes and obesity– are a major problem and continue to surge on a global level.
A big part of this problem is technology in the form of tablets, iPhones, laptops, and games which provide easy entertainment for children. The concept of play has been relegated to a click of a mouse and in fact, one third of pre-school children in the UK have their own iPad or a similar tablet that they use for an average of one hour and 19 minutes every weekday, often on their own without a parent or guardian, according to research.* (*The Guardian, October 6, 2015)
According to the findings of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) white paper, “Kids and Old Age”, more than half of South African parents report a sedentary lifestyle in their children as an actual problem. Moreover, poor diet and lack of structured exercise means obesity rates are rising globally, particularly in middle income nations. This problem needs to be addressed at a young age as Uta Kemmerich-Keil, CEO and President of Merck Consumer Health explains, “One thing is for certain: the earlier we start working with kids on how to look after themselves, the better the long-term impacts. If this debate helped strengthen the health education for my own kids here in Germany, as much as children from Brazil to India, then we are getting better at building a global future of healthy adults, able to enjoy a long life to the fullest.”
The Role of the Schools
Across the five countries surveyed, most schools provide exercise and include nutrition and hygiene, but are largely ignoring mental health issues that include real life lessons in avoiding stress, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and dealing with anxiety and depression. In fact, evidence from Germany suggests that mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, are major issues for a child’s health and ultimately can lead to bigger physical and mental health problems later on in adulthood.
These days most schools are focusing largely on academics; but to be more effective, education needs to be more comprehensive and target tangible lifestyle problems. In fact, the rising rates of child obesity around the world should be addressed by the schools. Therefore, a tangible shift in attitude and trends is required, whereby kids must be provided the right tools to protect their
own health. Lifelong health is a collective mission which requires the concerted efforts of the community.
A Global Holistic Movement
Key discussions addressed by experts at the annual Merck Global Consumer Health Debate included: how to ensure vitality and activity does not slow down as we get older; what are our children’s views on healthy living in old age; and what are the long-term health effects of early childhood health education? The fact is, there needs to be a global movement towards healthy life expectancy. The earlier we start working with kids on how to look after themselves, the better the long-term impacts. According to Atilla Cansun, Chief Marketing Officer of Merck Consumer Health, the decision-makers and different stakeholders must take a closer look and involve themselves with this mission personally. He emphasized, “This must grow into a worldwide movement.”
Moving Towards ‘100 Healthy Years’
The fight against unhealthy lifestyles must start from schools. The key message is that by working together on complementary efforts, our kids will be better equipped to become tomorrow’s healthy adults and elderly. Merck Consumer Health believes that given the tools and the knowledge to protect health, the perceptions of society about healthy aging can be changed. The emphasis should be holistic; both physical and mental health as well as wellbeing. The following series of steps were identified to improve the outlook for children’s health when they become adults:
- Promote greater awareness among children and families of the link between children’s health and lifestyle practices today and
their long-term health prospects.
- Place greater focus on broader well-being issues, along with the current emphasis on the basics of nutrition, exercise, good hygiene, and avoiding harmful substances.
- Teachers need to be trained to recognize the link between childhood health practices and healthy longevity, as well as the signs of possible mental health issues in children.
- Co-ordinate different levels of government in delivering health promoting programs, such as those related to improving school meals.
- Promote good health practices outside the formal school curriculum, for example by encouraging exercise during school breaks.
- Involve the wider community in addressing any cultural barriers to fitness and health promotion.
About WE100™ & Merck
is a movement to change the way we think about aging and prepare humans for living longer and healthier lives. The details of WE100™, launched by Merck Consumer Health, were unveiled at the second annual Global Consumer Health Debate organized at the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany on May 18, 2017 and entitled “100 Healthy Years – Are Kids Prepared?”
Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Founded in 1668, Merck is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company.