Obesity in Kids Rises Around the World

Study Shows Developed Nations Have Highest Percentage of Obese Children

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 21, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 21, 2010 -- The proportion of young children who are overweight or obese has increased about 60% in the past 20 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) says in a new report.

The WHO says that in 1990, 4.2% of kids under age 5 were overweight or obese, but that figure grew to 6.7% in 2010.

What’s more, researchers say the prevalence will likely hit 9.1% in 2020, and that the problem is worse in developed nations than in developing ones.

The prevalence in developed nations is 11.7%, compared with 6.1% in developing countries, but the trend is expected to pick up speed in developing regions over the next 10 years.

The WHO estimates that 43 million children worldwide are overweight or obese, and 81% of them live in developing countries. The number is expected to increase to about 60 million over the next decade.

The WHO says at least 92 million young children face the risk of becoming overweight. “These findings confirm the need for effective interventions and programs to reverse anticipated trends starting from very early childhood,” the researchers say, and that “waiting for school programs to address” the problem will probably be too late.

The study authors used data from 450 surveys representing 144 countries.

The study is published in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Obesity Trends

The estimated percentage of kids who are overweight or obese is lower in Asia than in Africa, but in terms of total numbers, Asia has the highest number of overweight and obese children.

Among key findings:

  • Northern Africa has the highest prevalence of overweight/obese children, at 17%, due mainly to high prevalence in Egypt of 20.5% in 2008, and in Libya, of 22.4% in 2007.
  • The greatest numbers of overweight young children in 2010 live in South Central Asia, where the estimate is 6.6 million.

“The rise in childhood overweight and obesity since 1990 has been dramatic,” the authors write.

“These findings confirm the need for effective interventions and programs” to reduce obesity, according to the report.

“If trends are not reversed, increasing rates of childhood overweight and obesity will have enormous implications, not only for future health care expenditures but also for the overall development of nations,” the researchers say.

They recommend routine assessments of children because evidence indicates childhood obesity starts as early as 6 months of age. Families need to be counseled on appropriate feeding practices and on other steps they can take to keep their children from gaining too much weight.

Show Sources


News release, World Health Organization.

De Onis, M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2010.

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