The epidemiological burden of obesity in childhood: a worldwide epidemic requiring urgent action

Di Cesare, Mariachiara ORCID logoORCID:, Sorić, Maroje, Bovet, Pascal, Miranda, J. Jaime, Bhutta, Zulfiqar, Stevens, Gretchen A., Laxmaiah, Avula, Kengne, Andre Pascal and Bentham, James (2019) The epidemiological burden of obesity in childhood: a worldwide epidemic requiring urgent action. BMC Medicine, 17 (1) , 212. pp. 1-20. ISSN 1741-7015 [Article] (doi:10.1186/s12916-019-1449-8)

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Background: In recent decades, the prevalence of obesity in children has increased dramatically. This worldwide epidemic has important consequences, including psychiatric, psychological and psychosocial disorders in childhood and increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) later in life. Treatment of obesity is difficult and children with excess weight are likely to become adults with obesity. These trends have led member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) to endorse a target of no increase in obesity in childhood by 2025.

Main body: Estimates of overweight in children aged under 5 years are available jointly from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO and the World Bank. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has published country-level estimates of obesity in children aged 2–4 years. For children aged 5–19 years, obesity estimates are available from the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. The global prevalence of overweight in children aged 5 years or under has increased modestly, but with heterogeneous trends in low and middle-income regions, while the prevalence of obesity in children aged 2–4 years has increased moderately. In 1975, obesity in children aged 5–19 years was relatively rare, but was much more common in 2016.

Conclusions: It is recognised that the key drivers of this epidemic form an obesogenic environment, which includes changing food systems and reduced physical activity. Although cost-effective interventions such as WHO ‘best buys’ have been identified, political will and implementation have so far been limited. There is therefore a need to implement effective programmes and policies in multiple sectors to address overnutrition, undernutrition, mobility and physical activity. To be successful, the obesity epidemic must be a political priority, with these issues addressed both locally and globally. Work by governments, civil society, private corporations and other key stakeholders must be coordinated.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): Obesity, overweight, global health, children, adolescents
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Natural Sciences
Item ID: 28301
Notes on copyright: © The Author(s). 2019 Open Access
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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Depositing User: Mariachiara Di Cesare
Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2019 12:22
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2021 13:48

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