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Worldwide Trends in BMI Among Children & Adults

Lancet; ePub 2017 Oct 10; Abarca-Gόmez, et al

In many high-income countries, the rising trends in children’s and adolescents’ body mass index (BMI) has plateaued at relatively high levels, with trends no longer correlated with those of adults. This according to a pooled analysis of 2,416 population-based measurement studies in 129.9 million children, adolescents, and adults. The analysis measured the height and weight of participants (aged ≥5 years, including 31.5 million aged 5-19 years). Trends were estimated from 1975 to 2016 in 200 countries for mean BMI and for prevalence of BMI for children and adolescents aged 5-19 years. Researchers found:

  • Regional change in age-standardized BMI in girls from 1975 to 2016 ranges from virtually no change in eastern Europe to an increase of 1.00 kg/m2 per decade in central Latin American and an increase of 0.95 kg/m2 per decade in Polynesia and Micronesia.
  • The range for boys was from a non-significant increase of 0.09 kg/m2 per decade in eastern Europe to an increase of 0.77 kg/m2 per decade in Polynesia and Micronesia.
  • Trends in mean BMI have flattened in northwestern Europe and the high-income English-speaking and Asia-Pacific regions for both sexes.
  • However, the rise in BMI had accelerated in east and south Asia for both sexes, and southeast Asia for boys.
  • Prevalence of obesity was 20% more in several countries in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Middle East and north Africa, the Caribbean, and the US.
  • In 2016, 75 million girls and 117 million boys worldwide were moderately or severely underweight, while 50 million girls and 74 million boys worldwide were obese.


Abarca-Gόmez L, Abdeen ZA, Hamid ZA, et al. 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. [Published online ahead of print October 10, 2017]. Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32129-3.


As the data above indicate, we live in a world of extremes, with far too many people who are underweight, a consequence of poor nutrition, and others who are overweight, a consequence of the ready availability of food. From a global perspective, both are important problems. Being underweight is associated with higher risk of infectious disease, stunted growth, malnutrition, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Being overweight is associated with an increase in the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Age appropriate solutions are needed for individuals and populations who are underweight as well as for the obesity epidemic. —Neil Skolnik, MD