Journal scan

Childhood obesity rates have plateaued globally but are still at high levels

Globally, obesity has increased in children and adolescents from 1975 to 2016, according to a study in the Lancet journal.

Globally, obesity has increased in children and adolescents from 1975 to 2016, according to a study in the Lancet journal.

In 1975, obesity in girls was at 0.7% and increased to 5.6% in 2016. In boys, it was at 0.9% and rose to 7.8%.

However, the study revealed that obesity rates across north-western Europe have levelled in children and adolescents since the year 2000. The study revealed that body mass index (BMI) levels had flattened (though at high levels) in north-western Europe and high-income English-speaking and Asia-Pacific regions for both sexes, southwestern Europe for boys and central and Andean Latin America for girls.

Childhood obesity rates have levelled across the world but BMI rates are increasing among girls and boys in south and south-east Asia. Picture: iStock


While high-income countries have plateaued since the year 2000, BMI has increased for south Asia and south-east Asia for both sexes.

The study looked at 2,416 population-based studies, from 1975 to 2016 in 200 countries, with height and weight measurements of 128.9 million participants aged five years and older. Although there has been an increase in obesity there is still a marked difference between underweight children and those who are overweight.

The study found that in 2016, 75 million girls and 117 million boys worldwide were moderately or severely underweight, while 50 million girls and 74 million boys worldwide were obese.

However, according to the study's authors, 'If post-2000 trends continue, child and adolescent obesity is expected to surpass moderate and severe underweight by 2022.'

'Nothing to celebrate'

Commenting on the Lancet Obesity report, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health officer for health promotion Russell Viner commented: ‘While that trend was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, levelling off at critically high levels is of course nothing to celebrate.

‘What’s more, the apparent plateau was hiding a more complex picture of increasing inequality; while rates amongst children from more affluent backgrounds have been improving, they have been worsening among the most deprived and vulnerable.’

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC) (2017) Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128·9 million children, adolescents, and adults. The Lancet.


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