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Ten-fold increase in children with obesity since 1975

Ten-fold increase in children with obesity since 1975

Publication date: Wednesday, 06 December 2017
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

Worldwide, there has been a more than ten-fold increase in the number of children and adolescents with obesity in the past four decades, increasing from 5 million girls in 1975 to 50 million in 2016, and from 6 million to 74 million boys, according to a new global analysis of trends in child and adolescent obesity in 200 countries.

Rates of child and adolescent obesity were highest (above 30%) in some islands in Polynesia, and were around 20% or higher in the USA and some countries in the Middle East and North Africa (e.g. Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and the Caribbean (e.g. Bermuda and Puerto Rico). In Europe, 19-49% of boys and 18-43% of girls are overweight or have obesity, representing approximately 12 to 16 million overweight youth, very few of whom receive adequate treatment. The European prevalence of childhood obesity continues to rise except in a few countries where it is levelling off (Denmark, France, Sweden, Switzerland).

“Rates of child and adolescent obesity have increased significantly over the past four decades in most countries in the world,” says study author Dr James Bentham, University of Kent, UK. “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 USA and 1 in 10 in the UK are obese. Additionally, 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.”

The study authors highlighted the reluctance of most high income countries to use taxes and industry regulations to change eating and drinking behaviours to tackle child obesity. In particular there have been few policies and programmes to make healthy foods affordable to poorer families.


These new figures highlight the importance of primary care in tackling childhood obesity with behavioural therapy to change diet and exercise, and screening and management of hypertension and liver problems, in addition to governments developing nationwide policies to encourage healthy lifestyles.

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. Worldwide trends in body mass index, underweight, overweight and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128.9 million children, adolescents and adults. Lancet 2017; DOI:
Topics covered:
Category: Evidence in Practice
Edition: Volume 2 Number 11 PCCJ Online 2017
Contributor(s): Jeremy Bray

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