A new international study has warned that childhood obesity has soared across the world and continues to do so in low- and middle-income countries, including the Arab world.
The study led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization (WHO) said that obesity rates in children and adolescents have plateaued in higher income countries, such as the United States and northwestern Europe although obesity levels remain “unacceptably high.”
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, it said.
An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity, the study added.
Lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: "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. The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. 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."
The authors said that if post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth from the same age group by 2022.
In 2016, the obesity rate was highest in Polynesia and Micronesia in boys and girls, at 25.4 percent in girls and 22.4 percent in boys, followed by the high-income English-speaking region, which includes the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
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.
Among high-income countries, the US had the highest obesity rates for girls and boys.