The number of overweight and obese children in rural China has soared, a new study has revealed.
In the 29 years from 1985 to 2014, researchers have found that obesity rates have increased 17 per cent for boys and 9 per cent for girls between the ages of 7 and 18.
Data was collected from 28,000 students living in rural areas of the eastern province of Shandong, and found that the issue has been rapidly increasing without cessation.
Boys in particular have borne the sharpest rise, with the percentage of overweight and obese boys going up from 0.7 per cent and 0.03 per cent respectively, to 16 per cent and 17 per cent.
Girls, meanwhile, have seen an increase from 1.5 per cent of the population being overweight and 0.1 per cent obese to 13.9 per cent and 9.11 per cent respectively.
Researchers believe that one of the factors contributing to the disproportionate changes between the genders is due to a cultural preference for males, particularly in rural areas, that “may mean that boys are likely to enjoy more of the family’s resources”.
The prevalence of sugary soft drinks and changes towards a more high fat, high energy and low-fibre diet as well as a decrease in physical activity, are highlighted as potential reasons for the spike.
The study, which has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, is based on surveys taken every five years from 1985 and defines obesity based on body mass index (BMI) points outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Obesity Task Force and Working Group on Obesity in China.
It is estimated that half the population of China lives in rural areas so if reflective of a wider issue, the study is a poignant one for policy makers.
Childhood obesity is increasing at a faster rate in developing as opposed to developed countries.
According to 2013 WHO statistics, 42 million children under the age of five are overweight worldwide, with nearly 31 million of those coming from developing nations.
The trend has numerous health implications attached with overweight children likely to grow into overweight adults and develop diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular issues at a younger age.