Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Global Epidemic of Childhood Obesity: Poverty, Urbanization, and the Nutrition Transition

  • Author(s): Brody, Jennifer
  • et al.

Childhood obesity is increasing worldwide at rates of epidemic proportion (1, 2). Previously a public health concern of only the modern, industrialized world, this problem now increasingly affects children and adolescents of poor, developing countries. This new and somewhat baffling phenomenon urgently begs the question: How is it that impoverished children around the world become obese? Recent studies suggest that rapid globalization and urbanization account for significant shifts in dietary patterns and physical activity levels that tend to increase risks for obesity in children. Industrialized agro-food systems established by global corporations have made cheap calorie-dense foods, fats, and oils widely available across the world and have caused what researchers call a "nutrition transition". This new global diet has led to increases in fat consumption worldwide (2, 5). Rapidly increasing urbanization has resulted in greater dependence on mechanized transportation and the loss of safe, open spaces for physical activity (2, 5). The combination of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a lipid-rich diet is documented both in children of poor countries, as well as among impoverished children of the US and other industrialized nations. The global nature of this epidemiological trend indicates that global interventions will be necessary to adequately address the social, economic, and political forces that impact access to healthy food, and voluntary participation in physical activity and consequently lead to increasing rates of childhood obesity worldwide.

Main Content
Current View