'Plan for the worst': 91mn children aged 5-17 may be obese by 2025 - study

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Considering current rates of childhood obesity, by 2025 some 91 million children globally, aged five to 17, will be obese, according to a recent study. A further 268 million will be overweight, it projected.

If no preventative measures to combat childhood obesity successfully counter current trends, around 91 million children will be obese, which will also result in an uptick in obesity-related conditions such as impaired glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and hepatic steatosis, which concerns concentration of fat in the liver, according to a studyPlanning for the worst: estimates of obesity and comorbidities in school-age children in 2025 — released in journal Pediatric Obesity.

By 2025 estimates, China will have the most overweight children in the world, with 48.5 million, followed by India, with 17.3 million, and the United States, with 16.7 million, the study reported.

The research team analyzed data prepared by the Global Burden of Disease collaboration in 2000 and 2013 to project what unaltered obesity trends would lead to in the year 2025. Estimates for child populations across the world were taken from World Bank predictions.

"These forecasts should sound an alarm bell for health service managers and health professionals, who will have to deal with this rising tide of ill health following the obesity epidemic,"said Dr. Tim Lobstein, co-author of the study, in a news release. "In a sense, we hope these forecasts are wrong: they assume current trends continue, but we are urging governments to take strong measures to reduce childhood obesity and meet their agreed target of getting the levels of childhood obesity down to 2010 levels before we get to 2025."

The researchers estimate that by 2025, the number of children considered obese will rise to 91 million (5.4 percent), up from 76 million (4.8 percent) in 2010. The number of overweight children will increase from 219 million (13.9 percent) in 2010 to 268 million (15.8 percent) in 2025.

Obesity-related illnesses will increase in the meantime, leading to about 12 million children with impaired glucose tolerance, four million with type 2 diabetes, 27 million with hypertension, and 28 million with hepatic steatosis.

The research team said they though they hope their estimates do not come to fruition, and public policy interventions successfully slow overweight and obesity in children, health service professionals should plan for the worst.

"We see no reason to rely on optimism as a strategy for planning for the future, not only for coping with the child obesity problem and its comorbidities, but also the rising levels of ill-health that will become manifest as those children retain or increase their adiposity moving into adulthood," the team concluded. 

"Rather, it is important to plan for the worst: and for this, the managers of health services need to be aware of the potential scale of the problem they may face and should start planning for the resources and staff capacity that they will need for the 2020s and beyond."

The study was released to coincide with World Obesity Day, observed on October 11.

In 2013, 42 million infants and young children across the globe were considered overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which also estimates that 70 million children will be overweight or obese by 2025. WHO is currently seeking comment on its draft implementation plan for recommendations released in January by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity.

"Increased political commitment is needed to tackle the global challenge of childhood overweight and obesity," Sir Peter Gluckman, the commission's co-chair, said in January. "WHO needs to work with governments to implement a wide range of measures that address the environmental causes of obesity and overweight, and help give children the healthy start to life they deserve."