There are 11 times more children and teens who are obese now than 40 years ago.
Globally, 124 million kids aged 5 to 19 years old were considered obese in 2016, up from 11 million in 1975, according to a new study in the medical journal, The Lancet.
The study, a collaboration between the Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, was a meta-analysis of 2,416 population studies across 200 countries. Obesity rates, determined by body-mass index standards, rose from .7% for girls in 1975 to 5.6% in girls in 2016. Just under 1% of boys were considered obese in 1975, but that number jumped to nearly 8% 2016. An additional 213 million youths worldwide were considered overweight in 2016.
“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,” said the study’s lead author Professor Majid Ezzati in accompanying WHO editorial.
The obesity rate was highest in Nauru, a tiny island country near Australia with a 33.4% obesity rate for girls, and the Cook Islands with a 33.3% obesity rate for boys. Polynesia and Micronesia followed with 25.4% of girls and 22.4% of boys who were found to be obese. The U.S. wasn’t far behind with 19% prevalence of obesity in girls and 23% in boys, making America have the highest obesity rates in high-income countries. Girls in the U.S. had the 15th highest obesity rate worldwide across all income ranges, while boys had the 12th highest.
Underweight children were actually higher in number than overweight kids in 2016, with 75 million girls and 117 million boys considered underweight across the globe. However, the study projects that at this rate, there will be more obese children than underweight children by 2022.
WHO states that both obesity and underweight children stem from the same problem: malnutrition in all its forms.
“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,” said Professor Ezzati.
WHO has also released an Ending Childhood Obesity Implementation Plan which gives countries guidance on how to reduce childhood obesity with instructions including reducing processed foods and reducing children’s time spent in front of screens and promoting physical activity.
The study, which included adults as well — in order to provide comparison models — found that adulthood obesity rose from 100 million in 1975 to 671 million in 2016. Another 1.3 billion adults were considered overweight.