Childhood Obesity Is Rising ‘Shockingly Fast’

A new nutrition report conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) focuses on childhood nutrition across the world. It's the most extensive report from the agency in two decades and the findings are alarming.

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The report says that one in three children worldwide is either overweight or undernourished. 40 million children under the age of five and 340 million adolescents, ages 5-19, are classified as overweight. This number is an increase over previous studies. For adolescents, the number of overweight children increased from 10.3% in 2000 to 18.4% in 2018.

"It's a shockingly fast increase," said the lead author of the report Laurence Chandy. "It's hard to think of any development indicator where you see such a rapid deterioration."

Low and middle-income countries saw the most dramatic increases in rates of obesity in adolescents. The U.S. is near the top of the list, with a rate of adolescent overweight around 42%. The reason for this is likely the increased availability of processed foods. These foods are often inexpensive, but high in sugar and low in essential nutrients.

The report also points to improvements in fighting poverty around the world.

"Poverty levels have reduced enough that people have agency about what to buy, but then they have to make the right choices under various constraints, including markets which provide a limited choice of food with poor nutritional quality," said Chancy.