Marketing to blame for tenfold increase in childhood obesity

The number of obese children and adolescents (aged five to 19) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades, according to new research published by Imperial College London and the World Heath Organisation.

The experts blamed the “worrying trends” on food marketing and policies that made healthy food too expensive for poor families. They also said that most high income countries had been reluctant to use taxes and industry regulations to change behaviours.

The study, published in The Lancet, analysed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people, making it the largest ever number of participants involved in an epidemiological study.

The experts discovered that the number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity.

Dr Fiona Bull, programme coordinator for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases at WHO, said countries should focus on reducing consumption of foods that are cheap, ultra-processed and nutrient poor.

“They should also reduce the time children spend on screen-based and sedentary leisure activities by promoting greater participation in physical activity through active recreation and sports,” she explained.

Lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “We need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods.”

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