More children and teens around the world are obese today than ever before. CNN Reported that in 1975, only 11 million people were classified as obese. In 2016, that number had risen to over 124 million.
In a global study, a population of 2,416 people over the age of 5 had their Body Mass Index (BMI) measured. The finding showed that trends in mean BMI have recently flattened in parts of Europe and “high-income English-speaking and Asia-Pacific regions” for both males and females, in “southwestern Europe for boys, and central [and parts of] Latin America for girls.”
The BMI measures the amount of body fat on an individual based on height and weight. It should also be noted that while BMI is usually the method used for adults only, for the study, the BMI categories were adjusted for children and adolescents.
In general, the global obesity of adolescents and teens increased for girls being roughly 5.6 percent larger and 7.8 percent for boys. The most severe increase in obesity occurred in the Pacific Islands, such as Cook Island and Nauru, where over 30 percent of youth are considered obese.
Majid Ezzati, a professor of global environment health at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and leader of the study explained to CNN in an interview how “over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally, and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries.” He also noted that “more recently, they have plateaued in higher-income countries, although obesity levels remain unacceptably high.”
This causes concern for the future because if a child is obese, there is a strong likelihood that the child will become obese as an adult as well. The Obesity Society states that this trend could lead to detrimental psychological and health consequences. Included in these consequences are depression, eating disorders, Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin resistance, and sleep apnea. These issues could additionally lead to organ failure, a stroke, or even cancer.
This is dangerous for the youth of today. Temo Waqanivalu, a program officer at the World Health Organization, also explained to CNN that they are “seeing very worrying trends with pediatricians who have children come in as young as 7 with type 2 diabetes.” Type 2 diabetes is typically an adult-onset condition.
The reason for this trend of increased obesity in underdeveloped countries is in part due to improvement in economies in the areas. A professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States explained to CNN that as countries become wealthier, the poorer populations gain more access to the cheaper and unhealthy foods that cause for such health concerns.
The cause for obesity is a combination of both genetics and the environment. As children do not have control over where or how they are raised, Waqanivalu expressed that the government should be stepping in to solve the obesity problem. Waqanivalu gave some solutions for the crisis including adding taxes on sugar, restricting marketing of unhealthy foods, or even implementing physical activity requirements at schools.
Both authors of the study, Waqanivalu and Han, acknowledged that this data gives more validity to what is already known about obesity, however, they are hoping that this will “quantify the magnitude of the problem.” They fear that because of the growing trends already, there will thus be an increase in the presence of chronic diseases in the near future.
Resultantly, they hope that this information will cause for a “wake-up call” for countries that have large amounts of childhood obesity and there will eventually be a decline in the prevalence of obesity in adolescents and teens.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons