Study claims obese children will outnumber underweight children by 2022

World Today

The number of obese children in the world will surpass the number of underweight children by 2022, according to a study warning of a global health problem.

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

Global childhood obesity has risen more than tenfold in recent decades, creating a public health crisis.

According to a new study published in The Lancet medical journal, childhood obesity rates from 1975 to 2016 soared from 5 million to 50 million for girls, and from 6 million to 74 million for boys.

Rates are highest in areas of Polynesia, the U.S. and some countries in the Middle East & North Africa. The study has led researchers to conclude that the problem has less to do with individual choices and more to do with a child’s cultural environment.  

“And people are getting better at identifying those environments and saying what can be done about it,” according to Majid Ezzati, a professor at Imperial College London. “It’s marketing and pricing and accessibility of very unhealthy foods; things that are high in sugar, fat, highly-processed carbohydrates.”

Public health officials argue things like raising taxes on sugary drinks, limiting junk food advertisements aimed at children and increasing access to healthy foods can all help bring down a country’s obesity level.

But even as the public health community wrestles with childhood obesity, underweight children in impoverished communities remains a major issue.

“We are seeing persistent underweight and rising overweight at the same time,” Ezzati explained.

The study determined that in 2016, 117 million boys and 75 million girls were underweight. Most of those children live in south Asia.

Some communities in India and Sub-Saharan Africa are struggling with both issues at the same time. Once underweight children are given access to more calories through food programs and they become overweight.

“The goal of those programs should be not just more calories but quality calories,” Ezzati said.

In China, studies have shown that childhood obesity in China has been rising sharply in recent years. Many experts suggest that increased access to western style junk food may be partly to blame for the increase.