159 million children are now classed as obese, research shows

New research from an international team of scientists has found over the past three decades, obesity rates have increased fourfold among children.

The research, which has been published in The Lancet, has outlined that more than one billion people worldwide are living with obesity. Rates among children increased fourfold and doubled among adults across a 32-year period.

three sprinkled doughnuts

Published today, the data – of which 1,500 researchers contributed to – was collected by measuring the height and weight of over 220 million people for more than 190 countries. The research, which can be found in full here, examined how body mass index (BMI) changed between 1990 and 2022.

Experts found that for girls worldwide, the obesity rate increased from 1.7% of the world’s population in 1990, to 6.9% in 2022. However, the numbers were even bigger for boys. The increase was from 2.1% to 9.3% over the same period.

Against this backdrop, for women, obesity rates increased from 8.8% to 18.5%, and for men 4.8% to 14% over the same stretch of time. In addition, rates of people who are underweight fell by around one-fifth in girls and more than one-third in boys, while the proportion of the world’s adults who were affected by being underweight more than halved.

Overall, 880 million adults and 159 million children were living with obesity in 2022. Whilst the UK ranked 87th highest in the world for obesity rates for women and 55th highest for men, Tonga, Nauru and American Samoa were found to be the nations with the highest rates at over 60%.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the study, said it was ‘very concerning’ that the epidemic of obesity which was present in adults in 1990 is now mirrored in schooled-aged children.

According to the NHS website, living with obesity can increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, breast and bowel cancer and having a stroke. Moreover, the condition can also contribute to mental health problems, such as depression, and can have dire effects on an individual’s self-esteem.

However, Professor Ezzati added that the problem of undernutrition is just as unsettling as the obesity crisis. He said: ‘At the same time, hundreds of millions are still affected by undernutrition, particularly in some of the poorest parts of the world. To successfully tackle both forms of malnutrition it is vital we significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods.’

This study was published by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Commenting on the study, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said: ‘Getting back on track to meet the global targets for curbing obesity will take the work of governments and communities, supported by evidence-based policies from WHO and national public health agencies.

‘Importantly, it requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products.’

Obesity is defined in adults having a BMI over or equal to 30kg/ m2.

Image: Patrick Fore

More on this topic:

NHS data has found childhood obesity in England is falling

NHS obesity drug: GPs to offer controversial weight loss jab


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