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Trends: Children

Trends in children globally

Last updated 06-06-2019

Some of the world’s highest rates of childhood obesity are found in Pacific Island countries including the Cook Islands and Palau. Obesity rates have increased worldwide among children and adolescents over the past 40 years.

Key Evidence

01

More than 30% of children in the Cook Islands, Palau and Nauru are obese

02

Around the world, 5.6% of girls and 7.8% of boys are obese

Childhood obesity around the world

In 2016, more than 30% of girls in Nauru, the Cook Islands, and Palau were obese; and the same was true for boys in the Cook Islands, Nauru, Palau, Niue, and American Samoa. More than 20% of children were obese in several countries in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the USA. Overall, 50 million girls and 74 million boys worldwide were obese in 2016.1 The World Obesity Federation’s interactive obesity atlas presents data on childhood obesity prevalence worldwide.

A snapshot of childhood obesity

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. 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, 2017; 390(10113):2627-2642.

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (2017). Child & Adolescent Body-Mass Index - global data. from http://www.ncdrisc.org/data-downloads-adiposity-ado.html

Trends in childhood obesity

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. 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, 2017; 390(10113):2627-2642.

Note: Data is age-standardised

Boys Girls

After controlling for age, global obesity rates in girls increased from 0.7% in 1975 to 5.6% in 2016, and 0.9% to 7.8% in boys, while rates of underweight have decreased for both boys and girls over this time.1

In high-income countries including Australia, children and adolescents' mean body mass index (BMI) has plateaued at high levels since about 2000, but the increase continues to accelerate elsewhere, particularly in parts of Asia.

The transition of developing countries from traditional diets to Western-style diets high in sugar and fat products has been described as the ‘nutrition transition’.2 Researchers have called for support for developing countries to coherently address underweight and overweight in children and adolescents. They warn that an increase in nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods can lead to stunted growth along with weight gain in children and adolescents, resulting in a higher BMI and poor health outcomes throughout the life-course.1

References

1. NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. 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, 2017; 390(10113):2627-2642.
2. Popkin BM. Nutritional Patterns and Transitions. Population and Development Review, 1993; 19(1):138-157.