Child­hood obe­sity in rich coun­tries may have peaked

Cape Breton Post - - Obituaries - BY MARIA CHENG

While the obe­sity rate among chil­dren in rich coun­tries may have peaked, kids in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are in­creas­ingly putting on un­healthy pounds, ac­cord­ing to re­search re­leased Tuesday.

Glob­ally, more chil­dren are still un­der­weight rather than obese al­though the re­searchers think that will change by 2022 if trends con­tinue.

The sci­en­tists in the U.K. and at the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion led an anal­y­sis of data from more than 2,400 stud­ies that tracked the height and weight of about 32 mil­lion chil­dren from 5 to 19 years old. They cre­ated mod­els to es­ti­mate trends in body mass in­dex, a mea­sure­ment based on height and weight, from 1975 to 2016.

Among de­vel­oped coun­tries, re­searchers es­ti­mated that obe­sity rates among chil­dren and teenagers had re­cently plateaued at about 10 per cent in the U.K. and about 20 per cent in the United States.

“This shows that some­thing can be done about obe­sity, but it might be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to call this ‘good news,”’ said Ma­jid Ez­zati of Imperial Col­lege Lon­don, one of the study au­thors. “Th­ese are still pretty high levels and we don’t want it to stay there, we want it to go down.”

Ez­zati and col­leagues found that in parts of Asia, north Africa and the Mid­dle East, obe­sity rates are ris­ing. World­wide, obe­sity rates among chil­dren and teenagers went from less than 1 per cent in 1975 for both gen­ders to about 6 per cent for girls and 8 per cent for boys. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mated that amounts to about 50 mil­lion girls and 74 mil­lion boys.

Last year, the heav­i­est chil­dren and ado­les­cents were in Nauru, the Cook Is­lands and Palau - tiny is­lands in Mi­crone­sia and the South Pa­cific Ocean.

At the other end of the spec­trum, the coun­tries with the most un­der­weight chil­dren were In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. In South Asia, ap­prox­i­mately 20 per cent of girls and 28 per cent of boys were ei­ther mod­er­ately or se­verely un­der­weight, which makes them more vul­ner­a­ble to in­fec­tious dis­eases, and in the case of teen girls, more likely to have preg­nancy com­pli­ca­tions.

The study was pub­lished on­line Tuesday in the jour­nal Lancet.

Some ex­perts said coun­tries deal­ing with obe­sity should in­tro­duce or in­crease taxes on un­healthy foods and drinks, such as the taxes im­ple­mented in Mex­ico, Bri­tain, South Africa and else­where.

“If you’re not do­ing any­thing about obe­sity, you are just in­creas­ing the prob­lems that come with it later, like di­a­betes,” said Tam Fry, chair­man of Bri­tain’s Na­tional Obe­sity Fo­rum.

Ez­zati said coun­tries need to make healthy foods more af­ford­able, say­ing that junk foods are of­ten the cheap­est op­tion.

“Right now it’s very hard to eat healthy if you’re poor,” he said.

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