If you’ve been paying attention in recent years, you know that America’s obesity epidemic is only worsening by the day.
We’ll give it to you straight …
About 36.5% of American adults are obese. To make matters even worse, another 32.5% are practically teetering on the edge of this (typically) avoidable diagnosis.
But, as much as we hate to admit it, the world is far larger than America.
And obesity is no longer a consequence of poor nutrition or a lack of exercise spanning decades. The obesity rates among children are following a similar concerning trend.
Why? How? Where?
Well, you’re about to find out. Follow along closely as we reveal 23 shocking childhood obesity statistics across the globe.
Table of Contents
Childhood Obesity Worldwide
- Over the last four decades, childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed from 11 million cases to more than 124 million (a tenfold increase), while another 216 million children and teens worldwide are categorized as “overweight.”
- In 1980, the obesity rates in children aged 2-4 were 3.9% for boys and 3.7% for girls. By 2015, these rates had nearly doubled — 7.2% of boys and 6.4% of girls were obese.
- More than 340 million children aged 5-19 and another 40 million under five are reportedly overweight. However, the 5-19 age group rates climbed the highest, from 10.3% back in 2000 to about 18.4% in 2018.
- Obesity rates seem to gradually increase as children get older. About 13.9% of 2-5-year-olds, 18.4% of 6-11-year-olds, and 20.6% of 12-19 year-olds are “obese.”
- Nearly 3.8 million children between the ages of 10 and 17 were obese in 2018.
- In 2019, more than 150 million children across the globe were obese. Experts believe that these rates will exceed 206 million by the year 2025.
- About 11% of Asian children, 14.1% of White children, 22% of Black children, and 25.8% of Latino children meet the criteria for obesity.
- Teenagers are far more likely to be obese than younger children and toddlers. Studies show that 21% of 12-17-year-olds are obese while just 18% of 6-11-year-olds and 14% of 2-5-year-olds will receive the same diagnosis.
The concerning part about the rising childhood obesity rates worldwide is that we can’t necessarily blame cultural, economic, or social phenomena.
It’s not an American problem or a European problem … it’s a human problem.
And we have a lack of exercise and an influx of unhealthy foods to blame. To put this into a little better perspective, consider this:
- Children get 5-7 hours of screen time per day
- Only 20% of kids get enough exercise a day
- 53% of children have their parents drive them to school every day
- About 3 in 10 children drink soda daily
- Junk food played a role in 13.5 million children inching toward diabetes
- Growing portion sizes give children an inaccurate perception of food & nutrients
Can we really be surprised that childhood obesity has grown into a global epidemic when we’re giving children near-unlimited access to technology and unhealthy food options?
Everything in the list above is nothing more than a recipe for disaster.
Obesity Statistics by Country
- While obesity rates in children rose globally from 32 million in 1990 to over 41 million as of 2016, childhood obesity rates in Africa climbed even more substantially — from four million cases to over nine million.
- Of the 49 million children under the age of five who were obese or overweight, about 75% of them lived in Asia or Africa.
- Childhood obesity rates in London are steadily reaching dangerous highs in the last decade. In 2010, about 21.8% of 10-11-year-olds and 11.6% of 4-5-year-olds in London were either obese or nearing the point of obesity.
- About 20% of boys in Spain, Italy, Malta, San Marino, Greece, and Cyprus are obese. Meanwhile, only 5-9% of all children living in Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, and France have met the same fate.
- In 2016, obesity affected nearly 1 in 8 children living in Greece.
- Childhood obesity is also a noteworthy problem in France, with 3.6% of French children being obese and another 18.1% being overweight.
We’re always learning about how obesity rates in America are awful and a threat to our nation’s health — which they are!
But seeing the statistics from other countries helps to color in the rest of the picture. And it forces us to accept another unfortunate truth:
Children in Europe, Africa, and Asia may be even worse off than American kids.
The most probable culprits are the urbanization and innovative transportation methods that have been popping up in the last few years in these regions.
We’re talking about:
- Subways, trains, rideshare services, and buses: Instead of walking miles to and from school, more and more children are choosing a more convenient set of wheels — increasingly sedentary lifestyles are nearly unavoidable by this point.
- Access to fast food chains: Joints like Burger King, McDonald’s, and Domino’s are welcoming themselves into cities by the hundreds. In nations where there once was no access, suddenly having a Pizza Hut on the corner proves to be a huge problem.
- An endless cycle: The thing about obesity is that it may have a genetic component. So in countries where families once struggled to find their next meal but now have unlimited access to quick options, the behavioral aspect of obesity is rearing its ugly head.
And even the countries that once touted insanely low childhood obesity rates (like France, where it was once tradition to keep the fridge shut between meals) see increased rates.
Ultimately, it seems the countries with the least amount of Westernization and urbanization are faring better in this department … oddly enough.
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America vs the World
- In American children aged 6-11, obesity rates have steadily risen from 7% to 18% between 1980 and 2012.
- On the global scale, the rates of overweight children have grown minimally from 4.8% to 5.9% between 1990 and 2018.
- About 1 in 5 children in Europe are overweight, while 3 in 10 North American children suffer the same diagnosis. In total, about 1 in 10 children are either overweight or obese.
- The soaring childhood obesity rates in America reportedly cost about $14 billion a year in excess health expenses.
- Obesity is far more commonplace in American children (40%) than in south-east Asian children (17%).
Newsflash: American children struggle with obesity more than nearly every other country in the entire world. And as expected, the problem is only getting worse with each passing year.
But why are we surprised?
It’s soapbox time (sorry in advance)!
When school districts across the country face budget cuts, the one class that always seems to wind up on the chopping block is physical education.
“It’s just gym,” they say.
Maybe many Americans don’t see the importance of learning how to play sports in the middle of the school day, but for some kids, PE is the only exercise they get all week.
And when districts have the choice between daily recess in elementary school and standardized test prep, we know which one always comes out on top.
Then there’s the other elephant in the room: School lunches.
Even if a child eats mostly healthy food at home, snacking on pizza, soda, and chicken fingers at school practically reverses the positive aspects of their at-home diet.
Yes, technology and video games are bad.
But can we really seek empathy for our childhood obesity rates when — time and time again — we take away resources and leave 5-18-year-olds to fend for themselves?
Now that’s an American problem.
Severe Obesity (But Also Some Good News)
- Moldovan and Swedish children experience some of the lowest rates of severe obesity in the world, at just 1% of the younger population.
- Based on recent WHO research and projections, about 398,000 European children spanning 21 nations are presumably severely obese.
- Between 2010 and 2014, obesity rates in 2-4-year-olds fell from 15.9% to 14.5% in those enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
- Across the globe, childhood obesity rates are reaching a point of stabilization — about 12% of children remain obese.
Obesity rates amongst children are highly concerning in nearly every country in the world. However, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
No, this isn’t some false inspiration.
There are certain areas of the world where childhood obesity rates are dropping or never surpassed even 1% in the first place. It’s absolutely possible to reverse and undo in time.
So, childhood obesity isn’t something that we, as a human race, have to put up with and say, “I guess that’s just the way things are going to be from now on.”
It has been controlled and can be controlled.
But it’s going to take effort on the part of everyone — school districts, parents, the government, and local farms and food distributors — to improve the health of our children.
While severe obesity in children is bad, it doesn’t have to be this bad.
America’s 13.5% obesity rate among children isn’t even the worst in the world. That title goes to islands in the Pacific — like the Cook Islands and Nauru — where childhood obesity rates are more than double America’s: 30%.
African nations like Burkina Faso and Ethiopia have the opposite problem.
Though the childhood obesity rates in these countries are a mere 2% (the lowest in the world), the hunger crisis in both nations puts millions of kids at risk for severe malnutrition.
Where does the United States rank in childhood obesity?
At no shock to anyone, the childhood obesity rates in the United States are steadily reaching epidemic-like proportions.
In 2016, about 13.7 million American children struggled with obesity (or about 18.5%).
But it gets worse. If we’re talking about American children who are either obese or overweight, the rates nearly double to 1 in 3 children.
The eating habits in American culture have only worsened in the last several years (and even decades, if we’re being honest).
In fact, the changes in the 17 years between 1999 and 2016 resulted in:
Obesity rates in children aged 2-19 jumping from 14% to 18.5%
Obesity rates in kids between two and five increasing from 9% to 14%
But when only 24% of American children get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day and prefer technology to physical activity, it’s no wonder these rates are only growing.
And the changes in childhood obesity between 40 years ago and now are even scarier. The WHO suggests obesity rates in children grew to be ten times worse in that period.
If these rates continue, we’ll eventually get to the point where there are more obese or overweight children in the world than there are underweight or malnourished.
Not all healthy-weight children will grow up to be healthy-weight adults.
But children who struggle with obesity at a young age are reportedly two times more likely to hold onto this diagnosis well into adulthood.
Translation: Obese children become obese adults.
And if we want to curb the 36.5% obesity rate in adults, we need to focus our attention on the source and instill early intervention methods in children.
What does that mean? For children, we’re talking about:
- Sticking to fresh meals (rather than frozen or premade) whenever possible.
- Encouraging 60+ minutes of exercise per day.
- Replacing sugary, salty, and fatty foods with healthier alternatives.
- Building self-esteem and body positivity, but, even more importantly, help children to build a healthy relationship with both exercise and diet.
If we want to lower our obesity rates as a country (or even a planet), we need to begin by encouraging healthy nutrition and exercise habits at home.
It’s not too late!
Want to learn more? Check out these 15 Shocking Obesity Statistics for the United States including recent facts and rates!
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