WHO Warns of Child Obesity Epidemic

Arttanja via Getty Images

Arttanja via Getty Images

Study author Majid Ezzati, a researcher at the college's School of Public Health, and his collaborators say it is the most comprehensive database ever assembled on this topic.

But even more children are underweight than severely overweight, according to the analysis of data from 200 countries. The study has led researchers to conclude that the problem has less to do with individual choices and more to do with a child's cultural environment.

Over the same time period, the rise in obesity has particularly accelerated in East and South Asia.

The most dramatic changes have occurred in middle income countries in regions such as East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America.

Researchers found that by 2016 overall obesity rates had jumped from less than 1 percent to almost 6 percent for girls and nearly 8 percent for boys - with rates at 20 percent or higher in the United States, Egypt and some Polynesian islands.

"While average BMI among children and adolescents has recently plateaued in Europe and North America, this is not an excuse for complacency as more than 1 in 5 young people in the U.S.A. and 1 in 10 in the United Kingdom are obese", said Bentham, of the University of Kent in England.

Obesity in adults is defined using a person's body mass index, the ratio between weight and height. India had the highest prevalence of moderately and severely underweight young people across the four decades.

"At the same time, healthier options, fresh foods, are priced out of reach of the poorest people round the world", he said.

More children will be overweight than underweight by 2022 if global trends continue, World Health Organisation experts say. So we can't wait to deal with underweight, and then worry about overweight and obesity.

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"There is a continued need for policies that enhance food security in low-income countries and households, especially in South Asia", said Ezzati. Childhood is a unique window of opportunity to have a lifetime impact on health, quality of life and prevention of disabilities.

It says that no single intervention can halt the advance of the obesity epidemic, but their plan outlines ways to encourage countries to reduce consumption of cheap, processed, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

Meanwhile, obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, depression and many types of cancer will cost India an estimated $12.7 billion annually by 2025.

"We have not become more weak-willed, lazy or greedy".

Ezzati also advised that regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods roll out, or a future generation of children and adolescents growing up obese will be at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes.

"It's our hope that countries will see how big the problem is (in their population), know the solution and be able to take some steps", said Waqanivalu.

New research published Tuesday finds that while the obesity rate among children in rich countries may have peaked, kids in developing countries are increasingly putting on unhealthy pounds.

"Dietary patterns are changing rapidly and accelerating obesity. and will lead to chronic disease down the road", said Hu.

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