Marked changes in food choices, portions sizes, consumption patterns, and eating behaviors have lead to a ten-fold spike in obesity rates worldwide over the past 40 years, according to Stephany Nebehay:

“Over 40 years we have gone from about 11 million to a more than tenfold increase to over 120 million obese children and adolescents throughout the world,” lead author Majid Ezzati of Imperial’s School of Public Health, told a news conference.

This means that nearly 8 percent of boys and nearly 6 percent of girls worldwide were obese in 2016, against less than one percent for both sexes in 1975.


The number of overweight children (those under the threshold of obesity) has also exploded globally; in 2016, 213 million children between 5-19 years old were overweight. Four decades ago, many of the countries showing high overweight and obesity rates were suffering from underweight and malnutrition. Meera Senthilingam reminds us that problem hasn’t gone away in many places:

The new research also revealed ongoing problems on the other end of the body mass spectrum — being underweight — with 192 million estimated to be moderately or severely underweight worldwide in 2016. In adults, being underweight is defined as a BMI under 18.5.

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.

For example, in India and Pakistan, 50.1% and almost 41.6% of girls, respectively, were underweight in 2016 — down from 59.9% and 54% in 1975. Numbers were similar among boys in 2016, at 58.1% and 51%, respectively.


While the number of underweight children appears to be slowly improving around the world, obesity — a form of malnutrition on the other side of the human weight spectrum — is not. By 2022, Nebehay says, obese children and teenagers will outnumber underweight ones (currently, 192 million children are underweight, half of them in India). The obesity epidemic is hitting close to home:

Polynesia and Micronesia had the highest rates of child obesity last year, 25.4 percent in girls and 22.4 percent in boys, followed by “the high-income English-speaking region” that includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Britain.

Among high-income countries, the United States had “the highest obesity rates for girls and boys”, 19.5 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively.


We’ll look at the obesity forecast for American children tomorrow on The PediaBlog.


(Image: World Economic Forum)