You’re Welcome, World: America Is Behind Climbing Childhood Obesity Rates
From first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to parents who pester their kids to eat their vegetables and put down the video games, health advocates around the world are doing their best to reduce childhood obesity. Despite these efforts, research released this week shows the childhood obesity epidemic is on track to get worse over the next decade.
The report, published in the October issue of Pediatric Obesity by the World Obesity Federation, found that the World Health Organization’s goal of halting the rise in obesity levels for children, adolescents, and adults by 2025 is unlikely to be achieved—and the obesity rate for children is set to soar.
For the report, the federation analyzed obesity data for 184 countries from 2000 to 2013 that was collected by the Global Burden of Disease collaborative, a group of roughly 500 researchers from 50 nations. In 2013, 14.2 percent of the children around the globe were overweight or obese, up from 12.8 percent in 2000. The federation estimates that by 2025, 15.8 percent of the world’s children will be obese. That means “some 268 million children aged 5 to 17 years may be overweight, including 91 million obese, assuming no policy interventions have proven effective at changing current trends.”
The largest increases in childhood obesity are projected to take place in developing nations. “We found that around the great majority, four of every five of the children suffering excess weight, were living in low- and middle-income countries, not the rich developed countries,” Tim Lobstein, policy director for the World Health Organization, wrote in an email to TakePart. “Last century, the big problem was under-nutrition, but with the spread of junk food around the globe and rising urbanization the problem is rapidly becoming excess weight and obesity.”
The researchers estimate that by 2025, China, which saw a 40 percent rise in childhood obesity between 2000 and 2013, will have the greatest number of obese kids in the world—nearly 50 million children. India is expected to come in second, with a projected 17.3 million obese children by 2025. The third, fourth, and fifth spots will likely be taken by the United States, Brazil, and Egypt, with a projected 16.7 million, 11.4 million, and 10.6 million obese children, respectively, by 2025.
“Governments are not doing enough,” Lobstein wrote. “There is international agreement at the United Nations level to halt the rising prevalence of obesity and diabetes across the globe, but it needs political courage to tackle the systemic problems countries are increasingly facing, such as the increasingly commercialised food supply, the development of dense and hazardous urban environments, the dominance of motorised transport, or the enticements of sedentary screen-watching.”
High rates of processed food consumption and the popularity of the Western diet have been expanding the waistlines of those in China and India. Alarming rates of childhood obesity have led officials in India to recommend a ban on selling junk food within a 200-meter radius of schools. Whereas extra pounds were once seen as a sign of wealth, India’s perception of weight has altered; one in five Indians is obese. China now surpasses the United States in processed food consumption by 1.4 billion people, with 12 percent of Chinese living with diabetes. Populations in India and China face a catch-22, however, as smog conditions create a hazardous environment for outdoor exercise.
The report’s authors advise health planners and service providers to prepare for an increase in obesity-related illnesses. The researchers estimate that by 2025, 12.7 million children will have obesity-related impaired glucose tolerance, and as many as 4 million will have type 2 diabetes. Another 27 million kids will have hypertension, and nearly 38 million will suffer from hepatic steatosis, better known as fatty liver disease.
“Developed economies are already funding billions of dollars’ worth of medical services due to obesity, but underdeveloped countries will struggle, and fail, to cope,” Lobstein wrote.
Although policies such as soft drink taxes, bans on advertising junk food to children, and improving public transport have been implemented in some nations, Lobstein warns that isn’t enough. “Without rapid action there will be another generation of children denied their right to good health,” he wrote.