Objectives. Obesity has become a global epidemic but our understanding of the problem in children is limited due to lack of comparable representative data from different countries, and varying criteria for defining obesity. This paper summarises the available information on recent trends in child overweight and obesity prevalence. Methods. PubMed was searched for data relating to trends over time, in papers published between January 1980 and October 2005. Additional studies identified by citations in retrieved papers and by consultation with experts were included. Data for trends over time were found for school-age populations in 25 countries and for pre-school populations in 42 countries. Using these reports, and data collected for the World Health Organization's Burden of Disease Program, we estimated the global prevalence of overweight and obesity among school-age children for 2006 and likely prevalence levels for 2010. Results. The prevalence of childhood overweight has increased in almost all countries for which data are available. Exceptions are found among school-age children in Russia and to some extent Poland during the 1990s. Exceptions are also found among infant and pre-school children in some lower-income countries. Obesity and overweight has increased more dramatically in economically developed countries and in urbanized populations. Conclusions. There is a growing global childhood obesity epidemic, with a large variation in secular trends across countries. Effective programs and policies are needed at global, regional and national levels to limit the problem among children.