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Unique UNC study confirms suspected worldwide epidemic of childhood obesity

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL Twenty-five of every 100 U.S. children are either overweight or obese, but children from other major nations are beginning to weigh too much as well, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes. Sixteen percent of Russian youths are overweight or downright fat, and the figure for Chinese children is 7 percent.

"Child obesity is becoming a public health problem worldwide, but the prevalence of obesity varies remarkably across countries with different socioeconomic development levels," said Dr. Youfa Wang, who conducted the study through UNCs Carolina Population Center and School of Public Health. "Different socioeconomic groups are at different risks, and the relationship between obesity and socioeconomic status varies across countries."

Wang completed a doctorate in nutritional epidemiology at UNC last spring and recently joined the University of Illinois at Chicago as assistant professor of human nutrition. A report on his findings appears in the October issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology, which is being published Oct. 24.

In the United States, he found the prevalence of obesity and overweight in children to be 11.1 percent and 14.3 percent, respectively. In Russia, rates were 6 percent and 10 percent, respectively. In China, the percentages were 3.6 and 3.4.

"Chinese children from more affluent families were more likely to be obese, but in the United States, children from poorer families were at higher risk," Wang said. "In Russia, both higher- and lower-income families children were likely to be obese when compared with those from medium-income families. Obesity was more prevalent in urban areas of China and in rural areas of Russia."

Excessive body fat, especially in children, concerns health professionals since it promotes heart disease and diabetes, he said.

For the first time, the researcher used comparable data for children ages 6 to 18 from nation
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Contact: David Williamson
david_williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
23-Oct-2001


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