Fighting Childhood Obesity Is a Slam Dunk for NBA All-Star Pau Gasol

September 26, 2019

Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol has been appointed a UNICEF Global Champion for Nutrition and Zero Childhood Obesity.

Malnutrition affects every country in the world. Globally, 149 million children under age 5 — nearly one in four — are stunted, more than 49 million suffer from wasting and more than 40 million are overweight. According to the 2019 edition of UNICEF's annual State of the World's Children report, Children, Food and Nutrition: Growing well in a changing world, from 2000 to 2016, the proportion of overweight children beween the ages of 5 and 19 doubled from 1 in 10 to almost 1 in 5. By 2025, researchers warn, an astonishing 70 million children around the world will be obese. 

As a newly appointed UNICEF Global Champion for Nutrition and Zero Childhood Obesity, NBA All-Star player and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol is putting his weight into the fight against childhood obesity and malnutrition-related issues to ensure all children can reach their full potential. 

Far too many children are not getting the nutrition they need to grow well," says NBA All-Star Pau Gasol. "If children don't get the right nutrients, their bodies and brains cannot be expected to perform well — at school, in sports and as they grow.

"Far too many children are not getting the nutrition they need to grow well," says the Portland Trail Blazers power forward and center. "If children don't get the right nutrients, their bodies and brains cannot be expected to perform well — at school, in sports and as they grow. So I'm excited to be working alongside UNCEF and through the Gasol Foundation to ensure that every child has access to proper nutrition and they are empowered to grow healthy and happy."

NBA All-Star Pau Gasol and his young sous-chefs know that good nutrition is the key to a strong, healthy body.  © UNICEF 

Children's health has been a lifelong passion for the athletic 7-footer and his younger brother, Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol. Together, they formed the Gasol Foundation to help shape the lives and futures of the world's children by promoting healthy habits, reducing childhood obesity  and drawing attention to the growing epidemic impacting the world's children.

I first got involved with UNICEF in 2003 when I realized that my success as a basketball player could be beneficial in ways that I didn't imagine before and that I could channel that success towards the benefit of children and raising awareness for children around the world.

"I first got involved with UNICEF in 2003 when I realized that my success as a basketball player could be beneficial in ways that I didn't imagine before and that I could channel that success towards the benefit of children and raising awareness for children around the world," says Gasol, who has been a dedicated advocate of UNICEF's nutrition, education, child protection and humanitarian work, traveling to meet children in Iraq, Lebanon, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa, Angola and Bangladesh. "And what better organization to do that with than UNICEF?" 

Pau Gasol plays with Hussein, an 11-year-old Syrian refugee, on a field visit to an informal settlement in Minyara, Lebanon in 2016.  © UNICEF/UN031072/Bosch 

"The burden of child malnutrition around the world is unacceptably high," says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "We are delighted to welcome Pau to UNICEF to help shine a light on this invisible emergency and ensure all children realize their right to survival and development."

Children are malnourished "even in European countries where we're supposed to have one of the healthiest diets," says Gasol. "It's not just diet, right? It's also about how much you exercise, how well you sleep and how you feel. So it's all about the different healthy habits and children are getting more and more sedentary. They're more distracted and stressed by the overload of information that technology brings.

Hear NBA All-Star player and UNICEF Ambassador Pau Gasol discuss the fight against global childhood obesity on UNITE for Children: A UNICEF USA Podcast. 

"Tackling childhood obesity takes a huge, coordinated effort. It requires a commitment and involvement at all levels of government, schools, media, health care professionals, the food industry and also community programs. Recognizing the need to address this growing epidemic, we founded the Gasol Foundation in 2013 to focus our efforts in reducing childhood obesity in both the U.S. and Spain. We know the vital role a child's health plays in their overall development and want to empower all children to live healthier lives."  

Read the UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2019 report, Children, Food and Nutrition: Growing well in a changing world.

Learn more about the Gasol Foundation. 

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Top photo: A UNICEF Spain Ambassador since 2003, Portland Trail Blazer Pau Gasol has been appointed a Global Champion for Nutrition and Zero Childhood Obesity by UNICEF.  © UNICEF