New global estimates of child and adolescent obesity released on World Obesity Day
The study published today in the Lancet analysed weight and height in nearly 130 million people, including 31.5 million children aged 5-19 years of age. The number of obese children and adolescents rose from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – a tenfold increase. An additional 216 million children were overweight.
Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College, London School of Public Health, says “Over the past four decades obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries”
Childhood obesity rates appear to be plateauing in high-income countries, but at very high levels. The areas of the world with some of the largest increase in the number of obese children and adolescents were East Asia and the Middle east and North Africa. The rise in childhood obesity rates has recently accelerated , especially in Asia.
Why are obesity rates increasing so rapidly?
Children's choices, diet and physical activity habits are influenced by their surroundings and rapid social and economic development has changed the environment many children are now growing up in. Diet and physical activity patterns have changed dramatically, shifting to processed, unhealthy foods and drinks and sedentary lifestyles.
Children are also particularly vulnerable to marketing and the price of foods and drink. There is clear evidence that the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children is related to childhood obesity. The low price and widespread availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods is also an important factor.
What can be done?
In conjunction with the release of the new obesity estimates, WHO has published a summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity Implementation Plan. This plan provide guidance to countries on the effective actions to curb childhood and adolescent obesity.
Dr Fiona Bull adds “WHO encourages countries to implement policies to address the environments that children are growing up in today, that increase the risk of obesity. They should aim to reduce the consumption of cheap, processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages in favour of healthier options. They should promote greater physical activity through play and sport, to reduce the time children spend on sedentary, screen-based activities.”
WHO has also released guidelines calling on frontline healthcare workers to actively identify and manage children who are overweight or obese. Obese children are more likely develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age, which in turn are associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability.
- Assessing and managing children at primary health-care facilities to prevent overweight and obesity in the context of the double burden of malnutrition
Overweight children are also likely to become obese adults. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers in later life.