Children are fatter than they’ve been in 40 years, with obesity rates up tenfold since researchers started studying the problem.
A new report in The Lancet shows that there are now 124 million obese children around the globe, up from 11 million in 1975. And experts say the health risks are worse in nations that can least afford it.
“Over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared…in low- and middle-income countries,” Majid Ezzati, the study’s lead author and a professor at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, told CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as having a body mass index greater than or equal to 30, which would be anything over 125 pounds for the typical 4-foot-6 adolescent.
Polynesia, where 25.4 percent of girls and 22.4 percent of boys are obese, leads the rankings, with the U.S. (19 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys), Canada and Australia near the top.
The Imperial College London and WHO global study also revealed:
—Obesity rates are rising in low- and middle-income countries while leveling off in higher-income countries. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. ranked at the top of high-income countries with the largest obesity rates.
—Childhood obesity affects boys more than girls, with 74 million boys affected, compared with 50 million girls.
—Girls in Malta and boys in Greece made up the highest obesity rates in Europe, while girls and boys in Moldova had the lowest numbers. The Pacific island of Nauru, with its population of about 13,000, had the highest rate of obesity for girls, at 33 percent, and the nearby Cook Islands had the highest for boys, at the same rate.
—In rankings, the United Kingdom was 73rd in the obesity rate for girls and No. 6 in Europe. Boys ranked 84th globally and 18th in Europe.
But experts say the problem of obesity is reversible. “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.
To combat obesity, the WHO says people should eat less processed foods and exercise more.
“There is a continued need for policies that enhance food security in low-income countries and households, especially in South Asia,” Ezzati told CNN. “But our data also show that the transition from underweight to overweight and obesity can happen quickly in an unhealthy nutritional transition, with an increase in nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods.”
In the United States, former first lady Michelle Obama championed her Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation. She campaigned for healthier school lunches and worked to motivate children to get active. School lunch regulations are being reconsidered by the Trump administration.