There's good and bad news for global trends of both malnutrition and obesity in children, based on a recent analysis of more than 31 million children from 200 countries worldwide.
Published in The Lancet, this study looked at global weight trends among children from 1975–2016. The goal was to assess progress in combating both malnutrition and rising obesity rates over the past four decades.
While on opposite ends of the spectrum, underweight or overweight in childhood are serious health concerns as they’re associated with significantly poorer health later in life. According to experts, recent weight trends among children and adolescents prompt both optimism and concern.
The recent analysis included data from more than 2,400 studies conducted between 1975 and 2016, all of which collected information about participants' weight. Together, these studies included nearly 129 million participants—31.5 million of which were children between the ages of 5 and 19.
The good news, according to authors, is that rates of malnutrition in children have decreased since 1975. Researchers also found that rates of childhood obesity have slowed in some regions, including high-income English-speaking countries and northwest Europe.
However, childhood obesity rates have increased in most regions and countries, particularly in east and south Asia. Researchers note that obesity rates were as high as 30% in the Cook Islands and Palau, and that obesity rates exceeded 20% in many countries, such as the Middle East, North Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. Malnutrition also remains a major issue in many regions and is worst in India, where 23–31% of children are dangerously underweight.
Most recently in 2016, researchers found that 75 million girls and 117 million boys were underweight while 50 million girls and 74 million boys worldwide were obese.
According to authors, this is the first study to provide a complete picture of global weight trends in children. What findings highlight, explain experts, is the need to come up with double-duty solutions that address both underweight and obesity in children. Many regions are impacted by both issues, which are equally as serious and concerning for children's health. Experts hope that education and policies can help address underweight and overweight, promoting a healthy weight in children in all corners of the globe.