Child and Adolescent Obesity Rising More Sharply Than In Other Age Groups
Obesity is growing fastest among children and adolescents – with about 10% of boys aged 5-19 either overweight or obese today.

More than half of the world’s population may be overweight or obese by 2035—with the sharpest rise expected to occur among children and adolescents, according to a new report by the the World Obesity Federation.

About 2.6 billion of the world’s 8 billion people are already overweight or obese, and COVID lockdowns likely exacerbated trends – although they also interrupted data collection. That means that the report is based on systematic global data collected up until 2016, according to the findings of the fifth edition of the World Obesity Atlas 2023, published just ahead of World Obesity Day, observed Saturday, 4 March.

Still dozens of research studies in countries across the globe have documented the effect of the pandemic in reducing physical activity and stimulating more unhealthy eating patterns, the report also added.

“The period from 2020 to 2022 was marked by extensive restrictions or ‘lockdowns’ in many countries that appear to have increased risk of weight gain by curtailing movements outside the home, exacerbating dietary and sedentary behaviours linked to weight gain, and significantly reducing access to care,” the report states.

And based on the sum of the evidence, one thing appears clear; obesity is rising fastest among children and young people.  About 10% of boys and 8% of girls aged 5-19 years were obese in 2020, the report estimates. Those proportions could double or more by 2035.

Obesity trends among boys and girls aged 5-19 years.

“A rise in obesity prevalence, which appears to have occurred especially among children, may prove hard to reverse, and suggests that a side-effect of managing the COVID-19 pandemic is a worsening of the obesity epidemic,” the report warns.

Low and middle income countries among the most vulnerable to rising obesity

Low and middle income countries also are amongst those with the fastest rising obesity rates, the report also found.

It highlighted Niger, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Nigeria, and Central African Republic as countries that are among the least prepared to cope with the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases that typically accompany obesity, including cancer, heart disease, and hypertension.

Conversely, more affluent countries, particularly in Europe, may be the best prepared to buck obesity trends – due to food pricing policies that make healthy, fresh foods more accessible and affordable, as well as urban environmental design that foster physical activity as a part of daily life.

By 2035, the economic costs of obesity could exceed $4 trillion, the report warns — imposing a particular burden on the same low- and middle-income countries that lack policies to combat obesity.  And that is likely an underestimate since many developing countries don’t track obesity-related disability or unemployment.

The report calls upon governments to take more assertive action in arenas such as taxing fat- and sugar-laden fast foods, as well as imposing stricter limits on junk food marketing, particularly for children.

At last month’s WHO Executive Board meeting an updated package of recommendations to countries for fighting non-communicable diseases were considered. Those “best buys” include stricter taxes and more front-of-label warnings for unhealthy foods and sugary drinks.

Image Credits: Commons , World Obesity Atlast .

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