The number of obese children and teenagers worldwide is 10 times higher than it was four decades ago, according to research from the World Health Organization and Imperial College London published Tuesday in The Lancet. In addition, 213 million boys and girls were overweight but not obese last year according to the study, which looked at data from 200 countries.
In real numbers, 124 million young people ages 5 to 19 were obese in 2016 compared to 11 million in 1975, the study showed. Researchers analyzed data from 2,416 population-based studies that measured the height and weight of 31.5 million people between the ages of 5 and 19.
“These data highlight, remind and reinforce that overweight and obesity is a global health crisis today, and threatens to worsen in coming years unless we start taking drastic action,” Fiona Bull, program coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases at WHO, said in a statement.
In the U.S., 7.5 million boys and 6.1 million girls were obese in 2016, the study found. In comparison, 1.6 million girls and 1.7 million boys were obese in the U.S. in 1975.
In recent years, obesity rates have become more stable in high-income countries, including the U.S., but they continue to rise in low- and middle-income countries, Majid Ezzati, lead author of the study and professor at Imperial College’s School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“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,” Ezzati said in a statement.
In many middle-income countries in Latin America, East Asia and the Caribbean, children and teenagers have quickly gone from being mostly underweight to mostly overweight. The trend puts these children at a greater risk of disease, said Ezzati.
“The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes,” he said. “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.”
More children and teenagers worldwide are moderately or severely underweight than obese, but that will change by 2022 if the obesity rates continue to grow as fast as they did in the last 40 years, according to the study.