10-fold increase in obesity among adolescents over the past 4 decades
New research released on 11 October, World Obesity Day, shares the worrying trend that obesity rates among children and adolescents are on the rise around the world. The study, led by Dr. Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London and funded in part by a grant from the AstraZeneca Young Health Programme, analysed data from the largest number of participants ever involved in an epidemiological study: more than 130 million people in total. With the cooperation of more than 1,000 researchers, the study looked specifically at Body Mass Index and how it has changed from 1975 to 2016.
The study demonstrated that there has been a tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity over the past four decades. Obesity rates have soared globally, and is now driven predominantly by growth in low- and middle-income countries. If post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight for the same age group by 2022.
This new evidence confirms the need for us to increase our efforts on health promotion and to advocate for changes in policy and programming that make it easier for youth to access healthy foods, find safe places to play and make healthy choices overall. This trend towards obesity in low to middle income markets is a serious global health issue that will take the cooperation and commitment of actors from across sectors and industries to address.
One way to address this trend is through investment in disease prevention programming. Through YHP, programming in many countries teaches young people about the connection between the choices they make and the impact of those choices on their health. In India and Kenya, YHP partner Plan International UK develops peer educator networks and cooperates with schools and community health centres to educate and empower young people to make healthy choices. In Romania, YHP partner Junior Achievement has developed a national school curriculum for high school students called I <Heart> Sport that encourages participation in sport and aims to reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease that threatens the country. In Canada, YHP partner Physical and Health Education Canada delivers a holistic school-based programme called At My Best for children aged 10 – 14 that establishes healthy habits around food, exercise and emotional wellbeing, to help children grow and thrive.
Another way to address this is through advocacy. Working with NCD Child, Rise Up Together and through events at global health gatherings, like the World Health Assembly and United Nations General Assembly, YHP aims to raise the profile of adolescents as a demographic whose health must be considered both together with and separate from the health of adults.
“The fact is, young people have different health needs and are often left out of the global health dialogue,” continues Sollis. “Dr. Ezzati’s research offers us very tangible and current evidence that the health of adolescents must be on the global policy agenda. If left unaddressed, the health outcomes could be disastrous.”
The full text of Dr. Ezzati’s research in The Lancet can be found here.