According to a new study carried out by the WHO, Southern European countries, despite having many treatment prevention initiatives in place, still have higher rates of childhood obesity than anywhere else in Europe.
The two studies were presented during the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow. They are part of the WHO Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI), which was introduced over a decade ago to monitor obesity levels in children.
Data was collected from 21 member states; however, it didn’t include Germany, France, and the UK, which are some of the most highly populated nations in Europe.
The first study looked at levels of severe obesity in school-aged children and found that Greece, Malta, Spain, and Italy had the highest rates of obesity, at 4% or above. Northern European countries, including Norway, Iceland, and Sweden all had rates of less than 2%.
Greece, Spain, and Italy also had the highest levels of pre-obesity, obesity, and severe obesity, with rates averaging at over 40%. In Portugal, Malta, and San Marino it was slightly lower, but still over 30%.
It’s still unclear why there’s such a big difference in obesity rates between Southern and Northern Europe.
The researchers, however, point to a range of possible explanations, including lower average heights, sleep duration, physical activity patterns, and dietary contributors, like the decline of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
In a press conference, João Breda, head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, said, “Severe obesity is a very serious health condition, and these children suffer already the negative impact of being that obese at their age.”
“We found that markers of cardiovascular health, for instance, are already different and that the risk of diabetes increases.”
“Health systems of different countries are not prepared for this challenge and they have already shown having difficulties in dealing with severely obese adults.”
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