October 20, 2017

Child and teen obesity spreading across the globe

11 October 2017, 02:53 | Silvia Roy

Arttanja via Getty Images

Arttanja via Getty Images

"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", said Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, who led the research. Girls showed a similar trend, with their obesity figure rising from five million to 50 million over the same period.

Dr. Katherine Morrison, a pediatric endocrinologist and associate professor at the department of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., said obese children and teens are "much more likely" to develop heart disease and other health problems like diabetes in middle age.

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.

"Rates of child and adolescent obesity are accelerating in east, south and south-east Asia, and continue to increase in other low and middle-income regions". And while obesity rates have mostly plateaued in higher income countries, they remain "unacceptably" high. Nearly two-thirds of these children live in South Asia, where some governments' ability to feed their citizens has been unable to keep up with countries' booming populations.

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While obesity rates among young people in Europe and the USA were said to have plateaued, the authors stressed it was still a serious problem in these regions. These range from underweight, normal weight, overweight and three categories of obese. But if the current trends continue, that will reverse by 2022.

The almost 200 million children classified as moderately or severely underweight also continue to pose a major public health challenge, the report's authors said.

The percentage of Indian adults living with obesity is set to jump to around 10 per cent (3.1 per cent male and 6.9 per cent female) by 2025 from 7.5 per cent (2.3 per cent male and 5.2 per cent female) in 2014, the new analysis, ahead of World Obesity Day on Wednesday, revealed. In adults, being underweight is defined as a BMI under 18.5. By 2016 their numbers had risen to 510,000, representing 9.4%.

Obesity comes with the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, while underweight children are more at risk from infectious diseases.

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While there are programs that target unhealthy foods, there are far fewer policies focused on making healthy food such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable.

Dr Fiona Bull from the World Health Organization called for tough action to crack down on "calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food" and promote more physical activity.

"But when countries become more wealthy, the trends become reversed", with the poorer population having access to cheaper, unhealthy foods and richer populations opting for healthier items, said Hu.

Professor Majid Ezzati, one of the study authors from Imperial College London, said: "While there have been some initiatives led by governments, communities or schools to increase awareness about childhood and adolescent obesity, most high-income countries have been reluctant to use taxes and industry regulations to change eating and drinking behaviours to tackle child obesity".

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