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03 Nov 2017

A study published in The Lancet has shown the number of obese children and adolescents (aged five to 19 years) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades.

The new data shows that in 1975 there were five million obese girls, but by last year there were 50 million. The number of obese boys has risen from six million to 74 million in the same period.

The study was led by Imperial College London and WHO and shows that if current trends continue, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.

It analysed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over five years (31.5 million people aged five to 19, and 97.4 million aged 20 and older), making it the largest ever number of participants involved in an epidemiological study.

Lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, says that obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally over the past four decades, and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries.  

"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,” Professor Ezzati 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."

The authors say that if post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth from the same age group by 2022. In 2016, the global number of moderately or severely underweight girls and boys was 75 million and 117 million respectively.

The authors also indicate the large number of moderately or severely underweight children and adolescents in 2016 (75 million girls and 117 million boys) still represents a major public health challenge, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

Dr Fiona Bull, program coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at WHO, said the study found that both overweight and obesity is a global health crisis today, and threatens to worsen in coming years.

WHO has also co-released its summary of the Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan. The report specifies which approaches and combinations of interventions are likely to be most effective in tackling childhood and adolescent obesity in different contexts around the world.

Dr Bull said WHO was recommending that countries: “aim particularly to reduce consumption of cheap, ultra-processed, calorie dense, nutrient poor foods. They should also reduce the time children spend on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities by promoting greater participation in physical activity through active recreation and sports.”

A copy of WHO’s Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan can be found here:


Published: 03 Nov 2017