Maltese girls are Europe’s fattest, WHO study in Lancet shows

WHO study says the world will have more obese children and adolescents than underweight by 2022

Girls in Malta and boys in Greece have the highest obesity rates in Europe, a new study by the World Health Organisation has found.

In Europe, girls in Malta and boys in Greece comprised 11.3% and 16.7% of the population classified as obese, respectively.

The number of obese children and adolescents aged 5-19 worldwide has now risen tenfold in the past four decades. Girls and boys in Moldova had the lowest obesity rates, comprising 3.2% and 5% of the population respectively.

Scientists at Imperial College London and the WHO, who conducted the study, said that if current trends continue, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.

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.

Girls in the UK had the 73rd highest obesity rate in the world (sixth in Europe); boys had the 84th highest obesity in the world (18th in Europe). Girls in the USA had the 15th highest obesity rate in the world; boys had the 12th highest obesity in the world.

Among high-income countries, the USA had the highest obesity rates for girls and boys.

Food marketing behind obesity rise

Lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, said obesity levels remained unacceptably high and said that the worrying trend reflected the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities.

“The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and at greater risk of diseases, like diabetes. 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.”

The authors said that if post-2000 trends continue, global levels of child and adolescent obesity will surpass those for moderately and severely underweight youth from the same age group by 2022.

Children and adolescents have rapidly transitioned from mostly underweight to mostly overweight in many middle-income countries, including in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The authors said this could reflect an increase in the consumption of energy-dense foods, especially highly processed carbohydrates, which lead to weight gain and poor lifelong health outcomes.

Dr Fiona Bull, a WHO programme coordinator said the data shows overweight and obesity are a global health crisis today, “and threatens to worsen in coming years unless we start taking drastic action.” 

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