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March 15, 2006

Childhood Obesity Projected to Increase Dramatically by 2010

Youfa Wang

The numbers of overweight and obese children worldwide are expected to climb dramatically by 2010, according to a study by Youfa Wang, PhD, MD, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Tim Lobstein, PhD, child and adolescent health research coordinator for the International Task Force on Obesity. By the end of the decade, 46 percent of children in North and South America are projected to be overweight and 15 percent will be obese. In developing countries with strong economic growth, such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Egypt, overweight and obesity levels will approach those of more industrialized countries. The findings are published in the March 2006 edition of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.

Obesity is widely known to contribute to a number of serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. In the United States alone, the direct and indirect costs associated with obesity amounted to $117 billion in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The prevalence of overweight and obese school-aged children is increasing in nearly every country, particularly in industrialized nations,” said Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health and Center for Human Nutrition. “Effective programs and policies are needed at the global and local level to prevent this epidemic.”

The projections for 2010 are based on the continuation of national trends measured over the last several decades. For the study, Wang and Lobstein analyzed all available cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that examined the prevalence of overweight or obesity in children and adolescents up to age 18. The studies, published between 1980 and 2005, included children from 60 countries.

The prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity has increased in almost all countries for which data are available. From the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, the prevalence in school-age children doubled or tripled in several large countries in most regions of the world, such as Canada and the United States in North America, Brazil and Chile in South America, Australia and Japan in the Western Pacific region, and Finland, Germany, Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom in Europe. According to Wang and Lobstein’s results, 41 percent of children in Eastern Mediterranean nations will be overweight over the next four years; as well as 38 percent of children in Europe, 27 percent in the West Pacific region and 22 percent in Southeast Asia.

The study also found a close correlation between the percentage of overweight and obese children and economic development. Highly industrialized nations had the highest percentages of overweight and obese children, mostly among their poorest citizens. Countries like Russia and Poland, which went through economic downturns in the early 1990s, saw reductions in their percentages of overweight and obese children. Lower- to middle-income nations face a double burden of having both malnourished and over-nourished segments of the population with most overweight and obese children concentrated in urban areas.

“Worldwide Trends in Childhood Overweight and Obesity” was written by Youfa Wang and Tim Lobstein.

Funding for the study was provided by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and National Institute for Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, and was conducted on behalf of the International Obesity Task Force.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.