Published: Wed, October 11, 2017
Medicine | By Megan Pierce

Childhood, adolescent obesity up tenfold in past four decades

Childhood, adolescent obesity up tenfold in past four decades

"Rates of child and adolescent obesity are accelerating in East, South and Southeast Asia, and continue to increase in other low and middle-income regions", said James Bentham, a statistician at the University of Kent, who co-authored the paper.

Current rates of childhood obesity are highest among many Polynesian islands, the US, and many countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

A further 213 million fell into the "overweight" range, with BMIs of between 25 and 29.9.

USA obesity prevalence rates for boys and girls compared to the world average.

Girls in Ireland rank eighth in Europe for levels of obesity and boys are in 15th place.

In Switzerland, 7% of boys and 4.6% of girls are obese.

The full results appear in The Lancet journal. However, twice as many men as women are overweight, reports the Swiss Statistical Office.

Unlike the obesity trend, the number of children and adolescents who are underweight has been declining globally since 1975, the paper found, but numbers remain high.

The study's lead author, Prof.

"More recently, they have plateaued in higher-income countries, although obesity levels remain unacceptably high", he said.

An overweight child wears a sweat-shirt reading the word "Style" on October 9, 2017 in Postdam, eastern Germany.

Although child obesity rates appear to be stabilising in many high-income European countries, including the United Kingdom, they are accelerating at an alarming rate in many other parts of the world, lead researcher Prof Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London says.

"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", Ezzati said in a statement.

In total, 124 million children and adolescents around the world had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, categorising them as obese.

"The health consequences certainly are apparent in adulthood", she told CTV News. "Obesity and underweight are just as important", he said.

Overall, one in every five children on the planet is either obese - meaning more than two standard deviations from the median on growth charts - or overweight - meaning more than one standard deviation.

So what is it about the Swiss lifestyle that helps prevent children from piling on too many pounds? Childhood is a unique window of opportunity to have a lifetime impact on health, quality of life and prevention of disabilities.

What's also startling is that the researchers note that countries can quickly swing from being underweight to obese, due to an increase in food that might be energy-dense, but poor in nutrients.

It also offers advice on reducing the time children spend on sedentary activities and promoting more physical activity through recreation and sports.

When asked about the key findings from this research, Ezzati highlights three points that need the most attention - that numbers of underweight children is persisting and obesity in high-income countries is plateauing, while the increase has sped up in East Asia.

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