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World Health Organization study sounds alarm over childhood obesity
11 October 2017, 05:24 | Randall Craig
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In 2016, the childhood obesity rate was highest in Polynesia and Micronesia, where a staggering 25.4 per cent of girls and 22.4 per cent of in boys are not just overweight but obese.
The authors found that the global prevalence of child and adolescent obesity increased for both girls and boys, from 0.7 percent to 5.6 percent for girls, and from 0.9 percent to 7.8 percent for boys.
In some countries, including the Polynesian Islands, more than 30 per cent of children and teenagers were in the obese category.
While obesity in children and teens appears to have plateaued in rich countries, its rise continued in low- and middle-income countries, they found.
Image copyright NCD Risk Factor Collaboration Image caption The highest rates of obesity are shown in red, followed by orange and yellow.
"We are seeing persistent underweight and rising overweight at the same time", Ezzati explained.
The study reports that the number of obese children has increased more than tenfold in the past four decades - from 5 million girls in 1975 to 50 million in 2016, and from 6 million boys in 1975 to 74 million in 2016.
"The experience of east Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean show that the transition from underweight to overweight and obesity can be rapid", the study said.
Obesity in adults is defined using a person's body mass index, the ratio between weight and height. The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes.
Nonetheless, a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests childhood obesity is still growing in the poorest communities in the United Kingdom, with one in 10 young people now classed as obese in this country.
Obesity is an underlying cause of many diseases later in life, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
The potential for these chronic conditions into adulthood also puts an increased burden on health systems - and financial constraints on individuals.
Co-researcher Dr Harry Rutter, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "This is a huge problem that will get worse".
At the other end of the spectrum, 192 million of the world's children and adolescents are moderately or severely underweight.
As for adults in Switzerland, 41% are overweight, and 10.3% are obese - making Switzerland average in comparison with other OECD countries.
As part of the solutions, the World Health Organization released a summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity Implementation Plan, offering countries clear guidance to curb childhood and adolescent obesity. Numbers were similar among boys in 2016, at 58.1% and 51%, respectively.
"It's associated with a stigma, so psycho-social consequences for the children".
But even as the public health community wrestles with childhood obesity, underweight children in impoverished communities remains a major issue.
"We do see it on a day-to-day basis and it makes me worry to see where these kids are heading", she said.
The authors call for governments to make healthy food more affordable.
What's also startling is that the researchers note that countries can quickly swing from being underweight to obese, due to an increase in food that might be energy-dense, but poor in nutrients.
Study author Dr James Bentham, from the University of Kent, said: "This is not an excuse for complacency as more than one in five young people in the U.S. and one in 10 in the United Kingdom are obese".
"Whoever is to blame for this epidemic, it's not the children", Waqanivalu said, adding that governments have created environments in which parents and children are surrounded by unhealthy food options and inadequate options for physical exercise.
Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges of the 21st century.
"We have not become more weak-willed, lazy or greedy".
"It's our hope that countries will see how big the problem is (in their population), know the solution and be able to take some steps", said Waqanivalu.
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