Two decades ago, malnutrition was the main threat facing children around the world. Now, according to a series of reports published recently, children are more likely to suffer diseases caused by overeating than from lack of food.

The research appears in seven papers that were funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The papers, published online by the journal Lancet, included work from more than 480 researchers in 50 countries and was based on data from several decades worth of surveys, censuses and past studies.

The last comprehensive study of this kind was in 1990. At that time, the top health problem was the death of children under 5 — mainly due to malnutrition as well as diseases such as polio and measles. Since then, strong vaccination campaigns and improvements in sanitation, medical services, and access to food throughout the developing world have reduced the number of childhood deaths drastically.

Over the past twenty years, the infant mortality rate due to malnutrition was cut in half.

Now, people are more likely to be affected by "rich-country diseases", like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. The mean age of death has also risen on a global scale. In 2010, 43 percent of deaths in the world occurred at age 70 and older, compared with 33 percent of deaths in 1990, the report said. Big jumps were seen in countries such as Brazil and Paraguay where the mean age was 30 in 1970 and 63 in 2010.

Sub-Saharan Africa was the exception to the global health trend. Roughly 70 percent of the region's health issues are still centered around infectious diseases, childhood illnesses and maternal mortality.

People living longer but with more disease
New report finds that obesity now affects more children than malnutrition around the world.