Ten times higher.
It’s a rate that would be celebrated if the context were dividends or improved test scores. But today, the World Health Organization announced that this is the rate at which childhood obesity has grown across the globe in the last 40 years.
The study, conducted by the WHO and Imperial College London and published in the Lancet, states that combined, the number of obese five to 19 year olds rose from 11 million globally in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity.
And among high-income countries, the United States of America had the highest obesity rates for girls and boys.
If current trends continue, the study concludes, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.
This data is stunning in its implications – for rates of preventable disease, for health care costs, for the future of entire generations the world over. And most certainly for children here in the US and in our own neighborhoods – particularly in low income communities.
In our daily work, the team at the Capital Area Food Bank observes first hand that obesity, paradoxically, is all too often the face of hunger. Without access to good food – whether the result of a low income, proximity to a grocery store, or most often in our area, both – the diseases associated with obesity (high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes) have become pervasive among those we serve.
We’re working alongside others to change that. Cleaning up our own inventory so that those we serve have ever-better options from which to choose. Providing opportunities for children and families to form lasting healthy food habits by setting up free fruit and vegetable markets in schools. And advocating for more and better retail options for those in low income communities.
We can’t do it alone. Today’s announcement is a call to action for people and organizations across sectors to support initiatives – in our low income communities and beyond – that can help turn this extraordinarily troubling tide.
Our future quite literally depends on it.