World Health Organization warns: rising number of overweight children worldwide

In January 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) presented the final report of the “Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO)”. The report states that worldwide at least 41 million children up to the age of 5 are overweight or obese.

übergewichtige Kinder
The number of overweight children worldwide is rising. (Photo: iStock)

The rate of overweight children at this age rose from 4.8 to 6.1 percent between 1990 and 2014. The WHO report states, that thus the number of overweight boys and girls worldwide increased from 31 to 41 million.

Since more than half of the world’s population lives in Asia, 48 percent of overweight children under the age of 5, can be found in this continent. About 25 percent are located in Africa. There, the number of obese children has nearly doubled since 1990, according to the report. The highest number of overweight children can be found in countries with low or medium income levels. According to the KIGGS-study by the Robert-Koch-Institute (2003-2009) around 9 percent of the 3- to 6-year-olds in Germany are overweight. With increasing age, the number of overweight children and teenagers also rises. Physicians and scientists assume that roughly 80 percent of overweight children and teenagers also weigh too much as adults.

According to the WHO report, in the developed countries mostly children from lower income brackets are affected. In less developed or poor countries families with a higher income are more likely to be impacted – but the picture there is shifting towards the pattern of wealthier countries. The growth of adiposity is attributable to an increasingly “obesogenic environment”, which is prevalent in poorer as well as wealthier regions. The availability of food - primarily the highly processed one, the lack of exercise and the changing leisure behaviors have changed drastically all over the world and are favoring overweight.

Beyond the numbers, the WHO also published advice how adiposity can be prevented and fought in childhood. This requires measurements of general support for a healthy diet, exercise programs, especially in early childhood and during school age, a better care for pregnant women and an optimized weight management for affected patients. Those recommendations are foremost targeted at governments of countries. But the WHO also addresses regulations concerning food industry and advertisement as well as school lunch. Sugar-containing drinks should be taxed more efficiently and exercise programs in schools ought to be expanded. An approach of society as a whole is necessary to overcome the problem, WHO experts say.

In Germany these claims have emerged, too. In Leipzig families with overweight children can find help at the “obesity outpatient clinic for children & adolescents”. There, special long-term treatment plans, like Obeldicks and the Leipzig Adiposity-Managment, are available.


Additional information:
The world population in mid-2015 was roughly 7.34 billion people. According to the Berlin Institute for Population and Development the proportion of children to the age of 14 was around 27 percent (2011). An estimate number of 1.98 billion children can be anticipated. The number of children in the entire population differs from area to area, e.g. in Africa it was 41 percent in 2011.

Doris Gabel