Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

Childhood overweight and obesity

Childhood overweight and obesity on the rise

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.

Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases, are largely preventable. Prevention of childhood obesity therefore needs high priority.

The WHO Member States in the 66th World Health Assembly have agreed on a voluntary global NCD target to halt the rise in diabetes and obesity.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in adolescents is defined according to the WHO growth reference for school-aged children and adolescents (overweight = one standard deviation body mass index for age and sex, and obese = two standard deviations body mass index for age and sex).


Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health

The fundamental causes behind the rising levels of childhood obesity are a shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients, and a trend towards decreased levels of physical activity.

WHO developed the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health at the request of WHO Member States, which was endorsed by the 57th World Health Assembly, in May 2004. The Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health is a prevention-based strategy that aims to significantly reduce the prevalence of NCDs and their common risk factors, primarily unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.


Related links

Contact us

WHO Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (PND)
Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
20 Avenue Appia
1211 Geneva 27
Switzerland
Telephone: +41 22 791 4426
Fax: + 41 22 791 4832
E-mail: dietandhealth@who.int

Frequently asked questions