Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition

Prevalence and trends of overweight among preschool children in developing countries

de Onis M and Blössner M.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000;72:1032-9.


Obesity during childhood is a matter of growing concern. Several reports show increasing rates of obesity in developed countries, whereas the extent of the problem in developing countries remains unknown


The aim of this study was to fill this gap by quantifying the prevalence and trends of overweight among preschool children in developing countries.


One hundred sixty nationally representative crosssectional surveys from 94 countries were analyzed in a standardized way to allow comparisons across countries and over time. Overweight was defined as a weight-for-height > 2 SDs from the National Center for Health Statistics/World Health Organization international reference median. Prevalences of wasted children (< 2 SDs) are also presented to enable comparisons between both ends of the distribution.


The global prevalence of overweight was 3.3%. Some countries and regions, however, had considerably higher rates, and overweight was shown to increase in 16 of 38 countries with trend data. Countries with the highest prevalences of overweight are located mainly in the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America. Rates of wasting were generally higher than those of overweight; Africa and Asia had wasting rates 2.5–3.5 times higher than overweight rates. Countries with high wasting rates tended to have low overweight rates and vice versa.


These estimates show that attention should be paid to monitoring levels and trends of overweight in children. This, however, should not be done at the expense of decreasing international commitments to alleviating undernutrition. The data presented confirm that undernutrition remains a major public health problem worldwide.