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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Apr;15(4):977-85.

Secular trends in childhood obesity in Denmark during 50 years in relation to economic growth.

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Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital, Center for Health and Society, Øster Søgade 18/1, DK-1357 Copenhagen, Denmark.



Our aim was to examine whether secular trends in childhood overweight and obesity during five decades could be explained by economic growth.


Annual measurements of height and weight were available for all children born between 1930 and 1983 attending primary school in the Copenhagen Municipality: 165,389 boys and 163,609 girls from the age of 7 through 13 years. After computerization, we calculated BMI (kg/m2) and estimated the prevalence of overweight and obesity, according to international age- and gender-specific criteria, by year of birth and of measurement, and separately by each age group and gender. Economic growth was indicated by the Gross National Product and the overall consumption per capita, adjusted for inflation.


The prevalence of overweight occurred in phases: an increase from 1930 until the 1950s, followed by a plateau period between the 1950s and the 1960s and a steep increase thereafter. This pattern was apparent across all age groups and in both genders. Obesity trends showed a similar phase pattern; the prevalence remained relatively stable from 1930 until the 1940s, increased until the mid-1950s, followed by a plateau until 1965, and thereafter a second steep increase. Obesity trends were similar among boys across all age groups, although only among girls from 11 to 13 years of age. In both genders, increments were most pronounced in the upper BMI percentiles. After stagnation until 1947, the economic growth indicators showed a steady increase; i.e., after the first increase started in overweight and obesity, whether analyzed by year of birth or year of measurement, there were no indications of phases in the rise thereafter.


Prevalence of overweight and obesity among Danish children rose in phases, which were not paralleled by trends in economic growth. The macroeconomic growth indicators seem inappropriate as proxies for the environmental exposures that have elicited the obesity epidemic.

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