The rising concern of childhood obesity in the whole wide world

The rising concern of childhood obesity in the whole wide world

By Antonia Filmer | 21 October, 2017
A map of the world indicating child-obesity rates by countries, with red representing the highest number of cases reported.

new study by The World Health Organization and Imperial College London has found a tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity especially in East Asia, in the high-income English-speaking region, the Middle East and North Africa.

The study was first published in The Lancet medical journaland coincided with World Obesity Day, analysing the weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over five years (31.5 million people aged five to 19, and 97.4 million aged 20 and older), made it the largest ever number of participants involved in an epidemiological study. Analysts found the number of obese 5 to 19year olds rose more than tenfold globally, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016, with an additional 213 million overweight in 2016 falling just below the threshold for obesity.The authors say this could reflect an increase in the consumption of energy-dense un-nutritious foods, especially highly processed carbohydrates, which lead to weight gain, disablement and poor lifelong health outcomes.

Girls in the UK had the 73rd highest obesity rate in the world (6th in Europe); boys had the 84th highest obesity in the world (18th in Europe); in Europe girls in Malta and boys in Greece had the highest obesity rates. Girls in the USA had the 15th highest obesity rate in the world; boys had the 12th highest obesity in the world. Among high-income countries, the US had the highest obesity rates for girls and boys.

The principal author Professor Majid Ezzati, Chair of Global Environmental Health at Imperial, holds food marketing, policies and pricing to account as healthy, nutritious foods are often too expensive in low and middle-income countries, he says “…The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods.” Dr Fiona Bull, programme coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases, adds: “... Countries should aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods. They should also reduce the time children spend on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities by promoting greater participation in physical activity through active recreation and sports.”

If post-2000 trends continue there will be more obese than underweight 5 to 19year olds by 2022, but underweight still persists in poor regions. India had the highest prevalence of moderate and severe underweight throughout the pastfour decades studied (24.4% of girls and 39.3% of boys were moderately or severely underweight in 1975, and 22.7% and 30.7% in 2016). 97 million of the world’s moderately or severely underweight children and adolescents lived in India in 2016. The reports points out the threat posed by malnutrition in all its forms, with there being underweight and overweight young people often living in the same communities.

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