World Health Organization study sounds alarm over childhood obesity

Global cost of obesity-related illness to hit $1.2 trillion

Children weighing in half a stone heavier

"The promotion and the price and the specials, the two-for-ones, the super-sizing - these are the problems that drive overweight and obesity, over-consumption". The number of children who are moderately and severely underweight is, of course, still larger, with 75 million girls and 117 million boys in that category - nearly two-thirds of whom live in South Asia. Meanwhile, obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, depression and many types of cancer will cost India an estimated $12.7 billion annually by 2025.

British girls have the 73rd-highest obesity rate in the world and boys the 84th, down from 27th and 39th respectively in 1975.

"This shows that something can be done about obesity, but it might be an exaggeration to call this 'good news, '" said Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, one of the study authors.

Experts divide people into body mass categories calculated on the basis of their weight-to-height ratio.

What's also startling is that the researchers note that countries can quickly swing from being underweight to obese, due to an increase in food that might be energy-dense, but poor in nutrients.

Globally, more children are still underweight rather than obese although the researchers think that will change by 2022 if trends continue.

While obesity in children and teens appears to have plateaued in rich countries, its rise continued in low- and middle-income countries, they found.

He said what's needed are regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods, as well as ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school.

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Prof Bull said the World Health Organization was talking to food manufacturers to find ways to reformulate products to reduce their sugar, fat and calories.

"This tells us something - industry can change", Prof Bull added.

He pointed out that while obesity prevalence among the most affluent United Kingdom children had fallen slightly in the last 10 years, it had steadily risen among the poorest.

"We have wide and widening inequalities".

Although child obesity rates appear to be stabilising in many high-income European countries, including the United Kingdom, they are accelerating at an alarming rate in many other parts of the world, lead researcher Prof Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London says. "Even though we may see some signs of improvement, we can not be complacent, and we need to ramp up our actions much more significantly to act across the life-course and across all of society", said Harry Rutter, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. While there are programs that target unhealthy foods, there are far fewer policies focused on making healthy food such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable.

"What we have failed to do is to properly address obesity which is a great disgrace a great scandal".

"We have not become more weak-willed, lazy or greedy".

"England is at the forefront of addressing childhood obesity - our sugar reduction programme and the Government's sugar levy are world-leading but this is just the beginning of a long journey to tackle the challenge of a generation".

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