Tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity in the past 40 years!

The paper in The Lancet presented the first-ever comprehensive data on underweight through obesity for children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years of age. Its findings are much more startling than announced, even though solutions exist. Action to curb obesity is a key element of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

130 million people analysed around the world

The new study led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization (WHO) was published ahead of World Obesity Day (11 October). It analysed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over five years, making it the largest ever number of participants involved in an epidemiological study. More than 1,000 contributors participated in the study, which looked at body mass index (BMI) and how obesity has changed worldwide from 1975 until 2016.

Childhood obesity rates have exploded

Obesity rates in the world’s children and adolescents increased from less than 1% (equivalent to five million girls and six million boys) in 1975, to nearly 6% in girls (50 million) and 8% in boys (74 million) in 2016. Combined, the number of obese children and adolescents (between 5 and 19 years of age) rose more than tenfold globally, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity.

According to Professor Majid Ezzati, the lead author of the study, these worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods being too expensive for poor families and communities.

Solutions exist

In conjunction with the publication of this study, the WHO reiterated its plan to end childhood obesity, which gives countries clear guidance on effective actions to identify and curb childhood and adolescent obesity. These documents are available on the WHO’s website. The country data on childhood and adolescent obesity rates are also available online.

The Louis Bonduelle Foundation has also developed several educational tools that suggest ideas for improving the situation. The monograph on children and nutrition, titled “Children and nutrition” looks at how children between 4 and 17 years of age eat and how their nutrition can be improved. The European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG) also has an interesting free eBook on childhood obesity.

Ezzati M. et al., The Lancet, Published online October 10, 2017.