Childhood, adolescent obesity up tenfold in past four decades

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Last Updated: October 10, 2017.

In Switzerland 75% of children walk to school - that's twice as high as countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

The EASO Childhood Obesity Task Force (COTF) is convinced that considering obesity as a chronic disease is a crucial step for increasing individual and societal awareness, enhance the development of novel preventive interventions and health policies, and improve the care of children with obesity worldwide.

Worldwide, Ireland has decreased in ranking positions over time between 1975 and 2016 in terms of childhood overweight and obesity prevalence.

A two-pronged strategy is needed to improve nutrition and reduce excessive weight gain, according to the study.

The researchers, from Imperial College London and the World Health Organization, analyzed data on trends between 1975 and 2016 in child and adolescent obesity in 200 countries, pulling from more than 2,400 population-based studies that included height and weight measurements for children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19.

In total, 124 million children and adolescents around the world had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, categorising them as obese.

"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".

Investment can also help to achieve the 2025 targets set by the World Health Organisation to halt the rise in obesity and to achieve a 25 per cent relative reduction in mortality from noncommunicable diseases. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, had climbed up the scale, from 29th to 17th.

Despite the increase in child and adolescent obesity, globally more children remain moderately or severely underweight than obese, with a majority in south Asia.

"The trends show that without serious, concerted action to address obesity. the health of millions of people will be needlessly placed in great jeopardy, leading to huge human and economic costs to communities", said study author Leanne Riley, of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Polynesia and Micronesia have the highest rate of all - around half of the young population in these countries is overweight or obese. It added that nearly two thirds of the world's children and adolescents, who are moderately or severely underweight, live in South Asia.

"These worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe", said Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, who was the study's lead author.

This may be a result of increased consumption of highly processed and energy-dense foods, the report's authors said.

The WHO has published an Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan, which it says gives countries clear guidance on effective actions to curb childhood obesity. "Even though we may see some signs of improvement, we can not be complacent, and we need to ramp up our actions much more significantly to act across the life-course and across all of society", said Harry Rutter, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The following side-by-side graphics, more than any others in the study, show the divide.

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