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Global Prevalence of Obesity in Adolescents

Childhood obesity is a chronic disease with lifelong implications that is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, affecting every country in the world.1-4

Obesity is rising in the under-19s faster than it is in adults.5

Source: World Obesity Center 5

By 2035, the number of boys living with obesity are expected to double to 208 million, and to more than double among girls to 175 million, making a total of more than 380 million children and adolescents living with obesity globally.8

Childhood obesity can have a lifelong impact on children and adolescents in their adult lives.3,4

75–80% of adolescents who live with obesity are likely to have obesity as an adult.8

Childhood and adolescent obesity has been recognised as a multifactorial disease, meaning that there is not just one factor causing it.9 There are many contributing factors that can be biological,10 environmental, or socio-economic.11

Biological causes:

Genetic: Single gene disorders, such as leptin receptor deficiency or Prada-Willi, are rare, accounting for less than one per cent of children or adolescents with obesity.10

Hormonal: Endocrine system causes are identified in less than one per cent of children but can include growth hormone deficiency, hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome.12 Most obese children do not have an underlying endocrine or genetic cause for their weight gain.12,13

Socio-economic causes:
Socio-economic causes include the lower costs of processed or ‘junk’ foods, sedentary lifestyle with long screen times, and the socio-economic status of family and neighbourhood, with limited access to play facilities.14

Psychological causes:
Children and adolescents living with obesity face stigmatisation and bullying that can lead to reduced self-esteem, anxiety and depression and possible eating disorders.15

Environmental causes:
Environmental factors affect young people’s behaviour choices and their access to good quality, nutritious foods, and healthy physical activities.14

Environmental factors include low-cost, ultra-processed ‘junk’ foods; high-glycemic foods and sweetened drinks; long screen time and sedentary lifestyle.14

Pre-natal/parental causes:
Smoking in the pre-natal period, maternal diet low in nutrition, and lack of breast feeding, predisposes children to experience obesity.11,14 Mimicking parents’ poor eating habits later on also plays a role.16

HQ23OB00419, Approval Date: October 2023


  1. World Health Organization. Taking Action on Childhood Obesity Report. Available at: https://iris.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665/274792/WHO-NMH-PND-ECHO-18.1-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Last accessed: September 2023.
  2. World Health Organisation. Obesity and Overweight Factsheet no.311. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/. Last accessed: September 2023.
  3. Bray GA, Kim KK, Wilding JPH, et al. Obesity: a chronic relapsing progressive disease process. A position statement of the World Obesity Federation. Obes Rev. 2017; 18:715–723.
  4. Collaboration NCDRF. 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. Lancet. 2017; 390:2627-2642.
  5. World Obesity. World Obesity Atlas 2023. Available at: https://www.worldobesity.org/resources/resource-library/world-obesity-atlas-2023. Last accessed: September 2023.
  6. World Obesity Federation. Boys living with either overweight or obesity. Newest available data. Available at: https://data.worldobesity.org/maps/?area=trends&group=B&year=2023. Last accessed October 2023.
  7. World Obesity Federation. Girls living with either overweight or obesity. Newest available data. Available at https://data.worldobesity.org/maps/?area=trends&group=G&year=2023. Last accessed October 2023.
  8. Lifshitz F. Obesity in children. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol. 2008; 1:53–60.
  9. American Medical Association (AMA). Recognition of Obesity as a Disease H-440.842. Available at: https://policysearch.amaassn.org/policyfinder/detail/obesity?uri=%2FAMADoc%2FHOD.xml-0-3858.xml . Last accessed: September 2023.
  10. Kumar S and Kelly AS. Review of Childhood Obesity: From Epidemiology, Etiology, and Comorbidities to Clinical Assessment and Treatment. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017; 92:251-265.
  11. Rhee KE, Phelan S and McCaffery J. Early determinants of obesity: genetic, epigenetic, and in utero influences. Int J Pediatr. 2012; 2012:463850.
  12. Speiser PW, Rudolf MC, Anhalt H, et al. Childhood obesity. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005; 90:1871-1887.
  13. Reinehr T, Hinney A, de Sousa G, et al. Definable somatic disorders in overweight children and adolescents. J Pediatr. 2007; 150:618-622, 622 e611-615.
  14. Karnik S, Kanekar A. Childhood obesity: a global public health crisis. Int J Prev Med. 2012;3(1):1-7.
  15. Russell-Mayhew S, McVey G, Bardick A, et al. Mental health, wellness, and childhood overweight/obesity. J Obes. 2012; 2012:281801.
  16. Mahmood L, Flores-Barrantes P, Moreno LA, et al. The Influence of Parental Dietary Behaviors and Practices on Children's Eating Habits. Nutrients. 2021; 13.
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