Worldwide study reveals a tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity

A new study has revealed that the number of obese children and adolescents worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades.

The research by Imperial College and WHO, published in the Lancet, predicts that if the trend continues the world will have more obese children and adolescents than underweight by 2022.

The UK is included in the list of countries with the largest increase in the number of obese children and adolescents with girls in the UK having the 6th highest obesity rate in Europe and boys the 18th highest rate in Europe.

The authors of the report said that these worrying trends reflect the impact of food marketing and policies across the globe, with healthy nutritious foods too expensive for poor families and communities. The trend predicts a generation of children and adolescents growing up obese and also malnourished. They said that we need ways to make healthy, nutritious food more available at home and school, especially in poor families and communities, and regulations and taxes to protect children from unhealthy foods

Professor Stratton, Head of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences and Director of the Applied Sports, Technology, Exercise and Medicine (A-STEM) Research Centre, Swansea University  is a member of the NCD-RisC group and a co-author on both adult and children’s obesity publications in the Lancet. He has contributed 21 years of data on bodyweight from 9-11 year old children living in Liverpool and Swansea and these data have contributed to the Lancet results that were released today.

From a Wales perspective Professor Stratton leads the Swanlinx project that is integrated into the Primary Schools Health Network (HAPPEN) run by Professor Sinead Brophy. Working together Professors Stratton and Brophy have amassed data on 4000 9-11 year old children in the City and County of Swansea. These data confirm findings reported in the Lancet and demonstrate that over a third of children are overweight or obese. Perhaps more importantly, over half of children in the Swanlinx project fail a basic measure of running fitness.

Gareth Stratton

Professor Stratton says: “Overweight is not a simple eating and exercise issue. Some overweight children have very healthy diets and are fit, and some normal weight children lack fitness and have poor diets. So physically growing up also plays a part. The most important message is that children should engage in healthy behaviours and reduce the convenience in the lives. Spending time outside, developing practical skills in food preparation, play, dance and sport and simply moving more and sitting less are simple cost effective solutions that can be fun, social and enjoyable for families and friends.”




Professor Brophy also leads the “Active project” that gives children £25 vouchers every month to spend on activity opportunities that helps children overcome financial barriers to participation and provides more activity choices.

Professor Stratton also leads the Swansea arm of a worldwide project to prevent diabetes ( through weight reduction, diet and exercise. Families with morbidly obese children living in the ABMU area have taken part and the project has been an amazing success with children completing 5k charity runs, avoiding unhealthy eating patterns, walking to school and taking part in activity that is fun for them.

Swansea University PhD student Nils Swindell and Dr Minou have captured some of the thoughts of families and children who took part in the PREVIEW programme

  • “When you really think about it, two third of meal choices he makes he makes them outside the home.” [mother] “ Maybe because he is having to become more self-reliant to make his own food choices, making his own food, this has really come at the right time because it’s point him in the right direction.”
  • “Yeah, on my planner I put on 60 min playing football and I’ll end up playing for 2 or 3 hours. Because I’m enjoying myself , I’m with my friends”. [Child]
  • There is much work to do to focus on healthy behaviours and healthy choices. Wales has the opportunity to really turn this issue around through a coordinated and concerted effort by politicians, health practitioners and all those who can make a difference to children’s lives. If the Future Generation of Wales Act could have a focus on healthy behaviour in children and thus bridge the gap between policy and delivery then Wales could move forward confident that the social burden of unhealthy behaviours is minimised and eventually removed.[Child]

“Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128·9 million children, adolescents, and adults” is published in the Lancet. Link:

For more information on the Swanlinx project go to'%20Fitness%20Fun%20Day%20feedback%20report%20(2015).pdf

Picture: Professor Stratton, Head of the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences and Director of the Applied Sports, Technology, Exercise and Medicine (A-STEM) Research Centre, Swansea University