A new study led by Imperial College London and World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the number of obese children and adolescents (aged five to 19 years) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.
The researchers also noted that an additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity.
If the current trend continues, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022, said the study.
For the findings, the researchers analysed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over five years (31.5 million people aged five to 19, and 97.4 million aged 20 and older), making it the highest number of participants involved in an epidemiological study.
Obesity rates in the world’s children and adolescents increased from less than 1% (equivalent to five million girls and six million boys) in 1975 to nearly 6% in girls (50 million) and nearly 8% in boys (74 million) in 2016.
Combined, the number of obese five to 19-year-olds rose more than tenfold globally, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.
“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,” said Majid Ezzati, a professor at Imperial College London.
The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes, the researchers said.
“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,” Ezzati added
The study also revealed that the number of obese adults increased from 100 million in 1975 (69 million women, 31 million men) to 671 million in 2016 (390 million women, 281 million men).
The areas of the world with the largest increase in the number of obese children and adolescents were East Asia, the high-income English-speaking region and the Middle East and North Africa. The high-income English-speaking region includes the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom.