First, the good news: Childhood and teen obesity rates have stabilized in the United States, in Northwestern Europe, and other “rich” countries throughout the world.
Now, the bad news: the World Health Organization attests that these rates are still “unacceptably high”.
According to Imperial College London School of Public Health professor Majid Ezzati, “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. More recently, they have plateaued in higher income countries, although obesity levels remain unacceptably high.”
The lead author of a new global obesity study goes on to say, “These worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities. The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. 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.”
Essentially, the study showed that, in 2016, nearly 8 percent of young boys and 6 percent of young girls, globally, were obese. In 1975 this measure was less than one percent of all children (either gender). More specifically, the study also showed that 213 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 were overweight last year.
What is, perhaps, most important, the study observes that these numbers are on the dramatic rise in impoverished areas, too. According to Ezzati, Egypt, Mexico, and South Africa—which had “very low levels of obesity four decades ago,” now have the highest obesity rates, in young girls, at roughly 23 percent.
The study notes, “The experience of east Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean show that the transition from underweight to overweight and obesity can be rapid.”
At the end of the day, WHO program coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases, Dr Fiona Bull, says: “These data highlight, remind and reinforce that overweight and obesity is a global health crisis today, and threatens to worsen in coming years unless we start taking drastic action.”
She adds that the WHO is now encouraging that more countries implement new efforts to address environments which are today increasing our children’s risk for obesity. She notes, “Countries should aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods. They should also reduce the time children spend on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities by promoting greater participation in physical activity through active recreation and sports.”