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WHO reveals childhood obesity in European Region

Tuesday May 11th 2021

One in three young children in some WHO European region countries are overweight or obese, according to a report published today.

The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) report on the fourth round of data collection (2015–2017), presented at this week’s online European Congress on Obesity said the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to negatively impact childhood obesity levels in the 36 countries that comprise the region.

Reporting on the data, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “COVID-19 could potentially amplify one of the most worrying trends in the WHO European Region – growing childhood obesity.

“Overweight and obesity are directly associated with life-threatening non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. What we must do to brighten the future of coming generations is implement science- and data-based policies that can help reduce childhood obesity, while promoting healthier diets and physical activity.”

Rates of overweight and obesity in children are reducing in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Slovenia, with the reduction of the overweight prevalence ranging from four to 12 percentage points for boys and from three to seven for girls.

Over the past few years, some of these countries implemented WHO-recommended measures to help tackle obesity rates, such as imposing taxes on sweetened beverages, food marketing restrictions and physical education classes, the report says.

The latest report examines COSI data from 36 countries that participated in the survey during the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years, which measured about 250,000 primary school-aged children.

Overall, the prevalence of overweight in children aged six to nine years was 29% in boys and 27% in girls, while the prevalence of obesity was 13% in boys and 9% in girls.

The highest proportions of childhood overweight and obesity were found in Mediterranean countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain, where more than 40% of boys and girls were overweight, and 19-24% of boys and 14-19% of girls were classed as obese.

The lowest proportions of childhood overweight and obesity were observed in central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The report found that more children consumed sweet snacks than savoury snacks, while the percentage of children eating these unhealthy foods more than three days a week varied from 5% to 62% for sweet snacks and from less than 1% to 35% for savoury snacks.

On average, one in two children used active transport to and from school, and in all countries, most children spent at least one hour per day playing outside.

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | Europe | Fitness

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