New maps show big divide between the world’s overweight and underweight children

The weight problems that preoccupy Americans typically are about how to lose weight, not gain it. But a study published in the Lancet on Tuesday night provides a sobering look at how much the relationship children globally have with food and weight depends on where they are growing up.

The study reports that the number of obese children has increased more than tenfold in the past four decades — from 5 million girls in 1975 to 50 million in 2016, and from 6 million boys in 1975 to 74 million in 2016.

Overall, one in every five children on the planet is either obese, meaning more than two standard deviations from the median on growth charts, or overweight, meaning more than one standard deviation.

The analysis, led by Imperial College London in collaboration with the World Health Organization, involves data on nearly 129 million children ages 5 to 19 in 200 countries. Study author Majid Ezzati, a researcher at the college’s School of Public Health, and his collaborators say it is the most comprehensive database ever assembled on this topic.

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