How to define a ‘high’ prevalence of obesity | World Obesity Federation

How to define a ‘high’ prevalence of obesity

NewsHow to define a ‘high’ prevalence of obesity

The World Obesity Federation has joined with UNICEF to publish a set of thresholds to categorise the prevalence of obesity in population groups.

A search of previously published surveys found the term ‘high’ being used to describe obesity prevalence in adult populations as low as 5% and as high as 55%, and obesity prevalence among children as low as 3% and as high as 36%.

Based on methods for categorising the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children, a set of definitions now categorises overweight and obesity prevalence levels from ‘very low’ to ‘very high’, for populations of adults, children aged 5-19 years, and children under 5 years. 

The new category definitions are already being applied to a series of Landscape Analyses being undertaken by UNICEF to assess childhood obesity in low- and middle-income countries, aiming to support public health risk assessment, alerting health departments and aid agencies to national trends, supporting policy development and helping to target resources for health interventions.

The proposed set of prevalence thresholds are available open access. See Table 7 of the paper* published in Obesity Reviews here.


*Lobstein T, Jewell J. What is a "high" prevalence of obesity? Two rapid reviews and a proposed set of thresholds for classifying prevalence levels. Obes Rev. 2021 Sep 28:e13363. doi: 10.1111/obr.13363.

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